Mindy Segal and the new HotChocolate
One of Chicago's best pastry chefs explains the breakdown that led to big changes at HotChocolate.
The sadness didn’t set in until last summer. Segal had been shown a bigger space just south of HotChocolate on Damen Avenue, and though she’d had no intention of moving her restaurant, the space got her thinking. She had long entertained a European-style bakery concept. This space could accommodate both the bakery and the restaurant.
Segal was feeling the pressure most restaurateurs experience when they look at Randolph Street. The big restaurants opening there seemed to command enormous crowds and unlimited media attention. “All of a sudden you’re not the new kid on the block,” Segal says.
Step by step, she moved forward with the new space. Meanwhile, convinced she was moving, she neglected some necessary improvements to the current HotChocolate building. There were serious duct problems—the air conditioning was ineffective, and people in the dining room were sweltering.
And the kitchen was understaffed.
And the servers had bad attitudes, according to Segal.
The chef was reeling from tidal waves of self doubt. “I felt myself failing as an owner,” she says. “It wasn’t like you would see it if you were sitting here. It was inside of me. It should have been a really great period in my life because I had just gotten engaged, and I’m in love…[but I thought]: I’m failing in my life. I’m 44. I should really be happy and at a plateau of my life, and I’m not there yet. I’m still striving.”
On top of everything, when the day came to sign the lease on the new space, she couldn’t bring herself to sign her name. She didn’t think it was a good deal for a restaurant.
Which left her with her unhappy staff, her air-conditioning woes, her unattended-to building. Still a small restaurant. Still seven years old. Still striving.
“I see so many [chefs] that melt down,” Kahan says. “The pressure gets to you, the expectations get to you.”
That’s when Segal found herself on her way to Miraval. In the car on her way to the airport, she sobbed uncontrollably. She was sad about her life and worried about her attempt to change it. She took out her iPhone and pointed the camera at her face. This was her low point, and she wanted to document it.