Alliance celebrates its 100th birthday by unveiling a new bakery and cafe along Grand Avenue
Founded in 1923, Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park has helped Chicagoans — including celebrities like Chance the Rapper — celebrate their birthdays with intricately decorated cakes. The century-old sweets spot will mark the anniversary with the opening of a second larger location in West Town, hoping to provide a new neighborhood anchor.
After more than six months of planning, chef and owner Peter Rios reveals the new storefront bakery should debut on Friday, October 27 at 1837 W. Grand Avenue and follow up with a grand opening event in November. Alliance Bakery Grand will seat around 20 (the original in Wicker Park lacks seats) and carry on Rios’ mission of creating fun desserts.
A hospitality veteran who served as executive pastry chef at Chicago’s Fairmont and Sofitel hotels, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, Rios purchased Alliance in 2007. He’s spent the subsequent years updating the bakery with more modern pastries and inventive flavor combinations. In short order, Rios established a reputation as a serious contender with a lineup of flakey laminated croissants, bright candy-colored French macarons, and delicate delights like the Dominque, a domed melange of chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry.
Chicagoans have learned a lot about pastry over the past 16 years, and local competition has dramatically increased to match the demand, says Rios. He also operated Alliance Patisserie, a cafe and pastry shop, for six years in River North. Now the city is filled with croissants and macarons from a new generation of bakers which means the Alliance team can’t rest on its laurels. “We have to stay on top of our game, stay current, and create new desserts whenever we have an opportunity,” Rios says.
That ambitious trajectory requires quite a bit of space, one of the primary incentives that prompted Rios to expand the business. Three-quarters of the 4,000-square-foot ground-floor space is devoted to production, and there’s even more room upstairs for a cake-decorating gallery, kitchen, and offices. That’s all in addition to the storefront, which features luminous pastry cases laden with immaculate French desserts, as well as a custom wall mural depicting a galaxy of sweets by local artist Nadiya Parosky.
Combining all these elements into one facility puts Alliance in a strong position to grow, says Rios, though he’s not quite yet ready to jump into another expansion. Over the years, he’s had to turn down projects with places like the United Center, which he says at one point inquired about the bakery providing desserts to all the skyboxes. Such a partnership was tempting, but Rios says he simply didn’t have enough production space at the time to sign on.
In Rios’ view, the new bakery represents an opportunity for both his brand and the neighborhood at large. There are several noteworthy spots located just minutes away, including Publican Quality Bread, Uncle Mike’s Place, and Output Sports Lounge, but there is plenty of room for hospitality businesses to spring up among the area’s warehouses.
“We hope to be an anchor for this part of Grand Avenue and an indicator that there’s change happening in this part of the city,” he says. “It’s not as appealing to investors or people in the restaurant and entertainment industry — they see it as desolate. But that’s what the Fulton Market area was 20 years ago.”
All these new developments might stoke anxiety among the bakery’s longtime fans, but Rios is quick to reassure them: “Division Street is an iconic location so it’s going to stay where it’s at,” he says. “It’ll look the same for the customers as they walk in.”
Look around West Town’s new French pastry palace in the photographs below.
Alliance Bakery Grand, 1837 W. Grand Avenue, Opens Friday, October 27.