A Filipino Bakery Will Bring More Than Ube and Calamansi to Lincoln Square

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Zesting lemon on top of croissants.
Del Sur is a new bakery full of Filipino flavors.
Del Sur

Del Sur, which grew from a pandemic side hustle, is part of Chicago’s Filipino bakery boom

It took its sweet time in coming but the Filipino cuisine boom that had been predicted year after year in Chicago is finally here. And it’s not just savory food that’s finding its footing. Filipino American bakeries have also found a welcome home in the Windy City.

Adding to the growing list that includes Umaga Bakehouse, Jennivee’s, Crumbs.nd.Creams, and Michelin-starred Kasama, is Lincoln Square’s Del Sur Bakery.

Scheduled to open in the fall next to Damen’s Brown Line El stop, Del Sur is the brainchild of Justin Lerias, who previously had been selling — and more often than not selling out — his creative and beautiful Filipino American baked goods such as turon danishes, longanisa croissants, calamansi hojicha buns, and ube oatmeal cream pies at Ravenswood’s Side Practice Coffee (the coffee shop’s founder, Francis Almeda, is a co-owner of Del Sur, 4639 N. Damen Avenue).

While Lerias’ pastry chef experience includes stints at Lost Larson and Big Jones in Andersonville, it wasn’t until the pandemic when he began incorporating his Filipino roots into his baked goods. Lerias was born on the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao and grew up on Chicago’s North Side

“One day during 2020 I was like I have Filipino food at home and I’m going to fill these pastries with it,” he says. “I had adobo at the time, and I shredded that and folded it in some croissant dough and called it a day.”

Lerias adds: “I’ve always known that Filipino food has potential, especially with the region where I’m from.”

a turon danish
A turon danish.
Del Sur

Those experiments turned into an eye-opening moment for Lerias, who has wanted to have his own bakery since he was 16 — he’s 23 now — but wasn’t sure of what the exact format would be.

“I thought to myself that maybe this could be the concept of my bakery,” he says. “I was very excited to be able to finally discover a voice through my baking. That was the lightning bolt for me and that’s when I started experimenting with other ingredients.”

For the next two years, lucky friends and family got to sample Lerias’ experiments, all while he took ceramic classes at the School of the Art Institute. “I was going through a phase of ‘I don’t want to be a chef,’” he says.

After seeing a 2022 story in the Tribune about Almeda of Side Practice and the coffee shop’s concept of showcasing people’s side gigs, Lerias first thought he’d reach out about his ceramics as he wasn’t sure his baked goods were good enough. Fortunately, the recipients of his “Midwestern techniques with Filipino flavors” pastries convinced him otherwise.

At the first Side Practice pop-up, Lerias’ pastries sold out within 20 minutes, with a line out the door. Not too long after, Almeda asked Lerias to supply pastries for the coffee shop regularly, later adding in sister spot Drip Collective, a coffee shop that opened earlier in 2024 in Fulton Market.

In the beginning, Filipinos made up the majority of his customers, says Lerias. But while the popularity of his pastries hasn’t changed, the audience has grown. “It’s good to be part of this Filipino boom that is happening in Chicago right now,” says Lerias, who credits the growth to “the domino effect” of other Filipino restaurants opening.

There’s plenty to showcase. For example, the people of Mindanao, which has a large Muslim population, have a different heritage from the rest of the Filipino diaspora (there’s been a push on the island to create an autonomous government).

“It’s a very good glimpse of what the Philippines could have been if it didn’t have colonialism,” Lerias says. “There are so many traditions people don’t even know about and that’s something that I want to highlight at the bakery.”

On Wednesday, March 6, Lerias paused his pastry-making for Side Practice to focus on Del Sur. When it opens, the 1,200-square-foot bakery, formerly Brew Camp, will be set up like “a living room.”

“What I love about baking was having my friends come over and baking for them. I want that same exact feel for the bakery,” says Lerias. “I want it to feel like a warm hug when you walk in.”

Filling pastries with cream
Calamansi hojicha buns
Del Sur

Putting his year at the Art Institute to good use, Lerias will be creating plateware for the new bakery. He recently finished making matcha bowls and glassware. “A lot of pastry techniques translate really well to pottery so that works in my favor,” he says.

The pastries at Del Sur will be very similar to what he created for Side Practice, including the calamansi chamomile bun and turron danish, the latter of which is filled with caramelized banana jam and topped with vanilla flan. Gluten-free and vegan offerings will be available, too.

His popular longanisa croissant, which is topped with soy sauce caramel, bay leaves, and a cured egg yolk, will also be on the menu. And, yes, ube, the purple-hued yam, will appear at Del Sur in his oatmeal ube cream pie among other pastries. But it won’t be the highlight. “Filipino food is way more than ube,” says Lerias.

For Lerias, Del Sur is much more than a bakery. Top of mind is a four-day work week, employee discourse on the tipping system, and empowering his staff to use their voices, something he encourages the high school students who want to be chefs that he mentors. He sees James Beard Award nominee Lula Cafe in Logan Square as an example.

“I want to be able to introduce a lot of ethical work practices that are otherwise deemed impossible by a lot of other chefs.”

Del Sur, 4629 N. Damen Avenue, scheduled for a fall opening.

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