Seven offbeat new businesses that emerged in the suburbs in 2021
Entrepreneurs continued to innovate ways to find suburban customers during the second year of a pandemic, resulting in the opening of some atypical new businesses in 2021.
Whether it was the debut of an indoor play center based around an internationally beloved children's TV character, a restaurant with a robot server or the growth of ax-throwing venues, the year gave those looking for something different plenty of options.
Here's a look at some of the uncommon new businesses to pop up in the suburbs this year.
Peppa Pig lands at Woodfield
Nearly a year after originally scheduled, Peppa Pig World of Play opened at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg in late February with COVID-19 regulations and reduced capacity in place for safety.
The 15,000-square-foot play center -- just the fourth of its kind in the world -- occupies the mall space that Rainforest Cafe filled for 24 years, restoring a family-friendly attraction to the same area of the mall.
While the ultimate aim is for families visiting the mall to drop in whenever they want, the new venue began its life with a requirement to register visits at peppapigworldofplay.com/chicago/en/.
Love your selfie
At the Streets of Woodfield Mall, Selfie WRLD is a do-it-yourself photo studio that opened in May.
Owner Victoria Wiechow and her husband, Patrick Thilberg, of Roselle decided to open their own business shortly after Wiechow's second layoff in a year from the same Schaumburg restaurant due to COVID-19 restrictions.
She'd seen a TikTok video about the original Selfie WRLD in Des Moines, Iowa, which was started by a photographer who had battled cancer.
"I feel that it's something new and positive to bring to the area, and I wanted to be behind it," Wiechow said.
Her location has 15 dedicated photo stations, as well as some additional backgrounds. The company requires six stations to be part of every location, including a diner setting and one with old-fashioned pay phones on the wall.
But there was plenty of space left over for many ideas of Wiechow's own, including a Chicago Bulls theme and one incorporating an amusement park bumper car. The plan is to rotate themes throughout each year.
Ax-ing for a good time
Ax-throwing lounges began to appear in the suburbs just before the pandemic, and their popularity only seems to have grown.
The latest is Lumberjaxe Axe Lounge at Grand Plaza in Libertyville. It features 16 lanes, food, beverages and two big-screen TVs.
The new venue in Lake County follows the Bullseye Axe Throwing Lounge, which opened locations at The Arboretum of South Barrington in the fall of 2019 and at Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg in the summer of 2020.
Twists on dining
Restaurants are often among the most popular businesses in the suburbs, but some stand out with their creative new takes on an established formula.
Take, for example, Eggsum/Kong Dog, which serves Korean corn dogs, innovative scrambled egg dishes and a variety of tea and lemonade-type beverages at 1749 Milwaukee Ave. in Glenview.
The corn dogs alone feature beef, pork and vegan sausages or mozzarella cheese with coatings made of traditional corn meal, fried potato chunks, sweet potato chunks with or without churros flavoring, ramen noodle crumbs, Hot Cheetos, Sweet Chili Doritos, Fruity Pebbles cereal or peanut choco.
Another new Asian restaurant is Shabu-You Japanese Buffet, which opened this fall at 1180 Plaza Drive just outside Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg.
The restaurant specializes in shabu shabu, a traditional Japanese dish consisting of thinly sliced meat and bite-sized vegetables cooked in a hot broth. Similar to fondue, shabu shabu is cooked one bite at a time during the course of a meal.
At Shabu-You, each table has an electric induction heat burner that contains the hot broth. A variety of Japanese sauces is available to flavor the food, which is delivered to the table by a robot named Betty that can play "Happy Birthday" when appropriate.
A new way to work
As the pandemic brought significant change to the traditional office workplace, Bell Works Chicagoland in Hoffman Estates became the home of coLab, a 15,000-square-foot coworking space.
At the time of its April opening, Managing Director Sean Donohue said the workforce that's emerging from the pandemic is demonstrating new interest in and applications for coworking spaces.
High on the list of reasons is the elimination of the distractions that come with working at home and the resulting increased productivity, he said.
"We've never been busier," Donohue said of coLab's first location at the original Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey. "I can't tell you how many happy faces I see. It's a little slice of normality in what has otherwise been a chaotic period in people's lives."
Some new from something old
A clear example of a creative reuse of a distinctive property that emerged this year was Karen and Lance Ramella's transformation of the Johnson's Statuary property they'd purchased in downtown St. Charles into Cedar Fox Weddings & Events.
The couple aimed for a venue that would combine the charm of a mid-19th-century stone house with some modern twists.
Cedar Fox has roughly 3,000 square feet for events, another 1,500 square feet under a covered veranda in the backyard, about 1,200 square feet on the ground floor for the kitchen used by caterers, and a bridal suite area.
Karen Ramella told the Daily Herald the venue is ideal for those planning weddings that are a little more intimate.
As a new year approaches, hope is strong for continued recovery from the pandemic and the new business opportunities a changed world will bring.