Interview with Chicago Rising Star Sustainability Bakers Art Jackson and Chelsea Jackson of Pleasant House Bakery

by Caroline Hatchett
May 2015

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start in the industry?
Art Jackson:
I worked at this French fine-dining restaurant, Les Nomades, for years. I got my chops, working the stations. Then in San Francisco, I worked at Fifth Floor, under George Morrone and Michael Mina. I helped a lot of chefs open their restaurants: Daniel Patterson for Elisabeth Daniel, and Pascal Rigo for Le Petit Robert. I returned to Chicago to open Bijon Bistro downtown. I ended up being there for 8 years.

CH: How did Pleasant House Bakery come about?
AJ and Chelsea Jackson: We’re coming up on our fourth year here. We're both chefs, and we had always worked toward owning our own place as sole investors. We live in Pilsen, and knew we needed to start small. We came across an old hot dog stand in Bridgeport and turned it into Chicago’s first British pie shop. We really drew anyone who was interested, as well as neighborhood people. We took a gourmet chef’s approach to this type of cuisine, and we went gangbusters from the beginning. Six months after we opened, we bought a food truck, and one year after, we were presented with the opportunity to open in Three Oaks, Michigan. It’s the same kind of food, but we also make our own beer. It’s a good addition to the brewing landscape in Michigan.

CH: What direction do you want to take Pleasant House Bakery next?
AJ and CJ:
We're expanding Pleasant House Bakery here and will be adding a whole ancient grain milling and baking operation to our business. The idea is that we'll have our own production areas that we supply, and our own garden has always been a goal and a symbol of what we do. It allows us to become more part of the community. When we’re outside the restaurant gardening, we get to meet our neighbors and get them involved. Right now, we’re expanding, adding a wood-fired oven and mill. We’ve worked with Heisler Hospitality to provide a special pie menu at Lone Wolf and Plein Air at the University of Chicago, but we have yet to reach our full potential; there's interest from Whole Foods and places like that. We’re willing to give up a piece of the pie, so to speak, to reach our full potential.

CH: How are you working to become more sustainable?
AJ and CJ :
At Pleasant Farms, we have our own composting program, for which we ride a bicycle to collect food scraps from houses and businesses. Jonathan [Scheffel, farm director,] has a trailer, and signs up for people on the South Side, and supplies them with a bucket. After a month, he rides a bike over, collects food scraps, and deposits them at Nature’s Little Recyclers. Waste is transformed by worms into growing soil that goes back into the garden. He’s doubling the amount of members every other week, so we need a bigger trailer now! Also, in 2012, Pleasant House received an award from Time Out titled “Most Legitimate Farm-to-Table Restaurant.” It’s a nod to our urban farming program. We're also tenants in one of the most exciting sustainability projects in Chicago and the United States called The Plant.

CH: What’s your five year plan?
AJ and CJ:
Having some key full-scale restaurants and pubs in Chicago and other big city markets, like New York, San Francisco, or Boulder. We love the idea of doing what we do in places we like, so we can add something to those communities. We're now running a very robust wholesale business, as well as beer brands. Our goal is to turn Pleasant Farms into a nonprofit organization so we can build in an education and community component to what we do. Big dream, big plans!