One Christmas when Detroit native Sophie Evanoff was six years old, she asked Santa for a play kitchen. She ended up getting her wish, though on Christmas morning she had to look for the kitchen outside on the deck, since her parents told her Santa couldn’t fit it through the chimney. That little red and white kitchen ended up foreshadowing Sophie’s career as a pastry chef and owner of Vanille Patisserie, with four locations throughout Chicago.
Sophie was the only daughter in a family with two older brothers, and she started baking with her
mother from a very young age. She became known as “the girl who bakes” both at home and
at school—always making the
holiday dessert, bringing treats
to school, helping with bake sales, and turning every school project into an opportunity to create something fun—like a cake that looked like a glacier for her 7th grade geography assignment.
She got her first Kitchen Aid stand mixer
as a Christmas gift from her father when
she was 16 – she remembers feeling so
cool, and thinking this had to be the first step
in her career as a professional baker. Sophie planned to go to Europe for pastry school once
she graduated high school, but her parents convinced her to take a more “practical” path, and she got her undergraduate degree in psychology from University of Michigan. She never gave up her early dream, though, and after graduation she moved to Chicago to attend The French Pastry School. The six-month, intensive program focused on all aspects of pastry—bread, cake, French entremets, confections, and ice cream—and she was finally doing what she loved to do.
Her first job out of pastry school was at a chocolate manufacturer in Glenview, and she was thrilled to be making more than minimum wage. Every work
day she took the train to the suburbs, walked a mile to the factory, and then would come home
at the end of the day exhausted and covered in chocolate. Sophie worked on the chocolate enrobing line, just like in the famous episode of “I Love Lucy,” but soon the job became more about fixing the very
temperamental chocolate machinery and less about being creative, and she needed to find something else. Her next job at a
wedding cake bakery and online true company gave her the chance to put
her pastry skills to work.
In November 2011, Sophie had a chance to purchase Vanille Patisserie, then with just two
stores in Lincoln Park and the Chicago French Market. The business had a great reputation for quality, and just needed a little tweaking and a strategic plan
to move forward—since then Sophie has opened two more locations in Lakeview and Hyde Park and Vanille is thriving.
Right now is one of Vanille’s busiest times of the year, with holiday orders already coming in for both traditional and modern Buche de Noel cakes; holiday cookie trays; macarons; petit fours; and the special Galette des Rois, available for only one month–from Christmas Eve through the end of January. This year Vanille has partnered with the non-profit, Gateway to Learning in Logan Square, and they will be purchasing some of the organization’s cookies to include on the holiday cookie trays.
Vanille’s Hyde Park location is celebrating its first anniversary this December, and Sophie is looking forward to energy in the store that comes when people are picking up their holiday desserts. She says, “Desserts are a part of every special occasion, and we get to go home with our customers and be a part of holidays, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and baby showers. We are creating pastries but that’s not all we’re doing—we want to be a part of your family.”