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Chicago French Market loses some, gains some; Saigon Sisters keep plugging away

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Vendors you won't find anymore at the Chicago French Market, 131 N. Clinton:

Zullo's. Necessity Baking Co. Wisconsin Cheese Mart.

"It just didn't work out, and we wish that market and the people in it great success, we really do," says chef Greg Christian of Zullo's, which joined the market in late February, then up and left in early June.

Ellen Carney Granda, owner of Necessity Baking Co., a staple at several suburban farmers markets, says while the location was great, the flow of business could be tricky (busy with train-hopping tourists on the weekends, but much slower as the weather warmed up). Ultimately, Granda says, the numbers just didn't add up; the bakery left last month.

"We didn't have the variety of product that allowed us to attract the lunch crowd outside of just the bread consumer, and for us that was a challenge. It was also straining our resources to get down there," she says.

Market operator Sebastien Bensidoun says turnover is to be expected as the market finds its footing.

"Remember one very, very important thing: This market has only been open since December. It's a very young market. As long as you get movement of some leaving, some coming, I'm definitely not worried," Bensidoun says.

Breaches of contract are another thing. Vendors are under a three-year lease. For those that have left, whether or not they will be sued, "I just don't know what will happen," says Bensidoun's father, Rolland Bensidoun.

The Bensidoun family operates indoor and open-air markets in France, New York, Connecticut, Michigan and throughout suburban Chicago. It takes a good three to four years for a market to find its groove, and at least five years for it to start turning a profit, Rolland Bensidoun says.

The Bensidouns acknowledge this summer has been tough as the market competes against all the outdoor farmers markets. But Sebastien points out that while they've lost vendors, they've also gained a few -- Fasta Pasta opened last month, and Gramp's Gourmet Foods came in the spring. There are plans to welcome a wine bar and another baker who will bake on-site; the market also is thisclose to adding an outpost of a French restaurant currently ensconced in a tres trendy North Side neighborhood, Sebastien says.

More on the upside: the Saigon Sisters. Demand for owner Mary Aregoni's banh mi sandwiches has been such that she is opening a 40-seat storefront serving small plates and even beer and wine at 567 W. Lake, just around the corner from the market, in the fall. She also is expanding her space at the French Market, and will add bao to the menu there.

Zullo's, meanwhile, whose sugar-dusted zeppole happily can still be found at the Green City and Logan Square farmers markets, is building its catering business and is working on a storefront concept as well, says owner Adriana Marzullo. Don't look for the stand-alone zeppole shop in the near future; it's ok to pray for it (and the future of the Chicago French Market), though.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page contains a single entry by Janet Rausa Fuller published on August 17, 2010 3:30 PM.

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