Skokie bakery goes big
Linda Zelda Neiman, the owner of Zelda's Sweet Shoppe in Skokie. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe
4113 Main St. or 7518 St. Louis St., Skokie
888-44-ZELDA or locally, 847-679-0033
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:18AM
Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe started out as a small mom-and-pop candy shop 10 years ago when it first opened its doors in Skokie.
But in less than a decade the kosher bakery and gourmet chocolatier has blossomed into a nationwide brand sold in big-chain grocers across the country.
Zelda’s is known for its scrumptious selection of hand-made chocolates, holiday and occasion-themed “cookie cuties,” and decorative cakes and candies, all of which are certified kosher and made to order by a team of bakers in one of two Zelda’s Skokie-based bakeries at 4113 Main St. or 7518 St. Louis St.
Owner Linda Zelda Neiman opened the second location on St. Louis five years ago to keep up with the demand for wholesale orders, which have gone through the roof since Midwest locations of Whole Foods, Jewel and Treasure Island stores began carrying her products several years ago.
Zelda’s popularity, however, has spread far beyond the Midwest. Sweet lovers from California to New York can place orders for anything on the menu and have it shipped directly to their front door via Zelda’s Web-based bakery.
Neiman tops each order with a sticker that says “made by hand in Skokie, Ill.,” to make sure their hometown is given due recognition.
Seated on a plush couch in a seating area for cake-ordering customers Main Street bakery on a recent Monday morning, Neiman explained the story behind her business, which started when she wrote a kosher cookbook during a stint as a stay-at-home mom more than a decade ago.
The cookbook turned into a hit among friends and parents at her son’s school, and when she contemplated going back to work at her old office job, the corporate life suddenly lost its appeal.
So Neiman took a risk and followed her dream of leaving office life behind for good, in favor of opening a shop offering kosher gifts and sweets that she was determined to make “amazing,” she said.
“My husband and I spoke about opening up a bakery for many years, and to see the dream blossom like this this is incredibly rewarding,” Neiman said. “To bring Skokie across the country has so far been one of the most gratifying aspects of my business.”
When she first opened Zelda’s, she started with four employees under her belt. She didn’t anticipate the nationwide presence her company now enjoys, which is now made possible with the help of a staff of 22 full-time employees. During the bakery’s busy season, which starts this month with Valentine’s Day, she adds another 15 temporary workers.
Zelda’s fancily-adorned heart-shaped boxes filled with adorable hand-made gourmet chocolates are a hot item this time of year among men searching for the perfect gift to satisfy their wife or girlfriend’s love of chocolate, but Valentine’s Day is only the first in a series of late-winter and spring occasions that have Zelda’s bakers busier than usual.
Zelda’s makes specialty kosher treats like “Handmade Purim Hamentashen” and the “Megillah Cookie Cake” for the Jewish holiday Purim, which falls shortly after Valentine’s Day on Feb. 23 this year.
After Purim, upcoming celebrations for Passover, Easter, graduation and the start of wedding season means business won’t be slowing down any time soon.
It’s not just the kosher aspect of the business that has lent to Zelda’s popularity. Neiman said many of her customers don’t even know the products are Kosher.
“A lot of times people say they love us because we’re gourmet, but they find that kosher is just as good as non-kosher,” Neiman said. “The popularity of kosher foods has gone beyond the Jewish faith and has become more of a lifestyle for a lot of people, similar to the popularity of gluten-free products.”