Army Vet Opens Strugglebeard Bakery In Hyde Park: ‘I Infused My Own Personality In The Shop’

HYDE PARK — A new Black-owned bakery in Hyde Park, which grew from a military veteran’s pandemic hobby and social media venture, is bringing gourmet baked goods with a side of irreverent energy to Harper Court.

Strugglebeard Bakery, 5221 S. Harper Court, opened last month. Quinton McNair, “owner, creator, head baker and all of that,” sells cookies, muffins, brownies, loaf slices and cupcakes developed from years of home baking, plus Southside Grinds coffee, tea and other café staples.

Strugglebeard Bakery’s everything brownies on display at the Harper Court shop Wednesday. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Strugglebeard Bakery stems from McNair’s desire to “be something positive in the community” upon returning to his hometown of Chicago a few years ago, he said. He retired in 2019 after 24 years in the Army, he said.

McNair came across a recipe on social media for what became the “Charles Anthony” — a brown butter, chocolate chunk and bourbon-roasted pecan cookie — and tried it out.

The first batch was “über-trash,” but McNair stuck with the recipe and perfected it before expanding to other treats.

Baking gave McNair, who has battled post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, an outlet to improve his mental health and a potential new career, he said.

“I discovered during that time, yo, this was very therapeutic. In the kitchen, when I had my music on, I wasn’t worried about anything,” McNair said. “It was very, very healing at the time. It felt good to create things other people enjoyed.”

The repertoire has since grown to the Trez V. Pugh, a chocolate, caramel, bourbon-roasted pecan and caramel turtle whiskey cookie named after Sip and Savor‘s founder; the Professor, a vegan chocolate chunk cookie; a limoncello cookie cupcake; an everything brownie “people will fight you for” and more than a dozen others.

Baked goods range from $3.50 for standard cupcakes and loaf slices to $5.37 for cookies and specialty cupcakes. Hot cocoa and tea is $3.25, while coffee with shots of flavored syrup is $4.75.

The Hipster, a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie. Strugglebeard Bakery offers 13 cookie recipes, as well as cupcakes, muffins and other baked goods. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

McNair quit his civilian job in 2020 to become a full-time baker, and he shipped his first order in 2021. He’s since shipped “well over 1,000” orders and opened the flagship Strugglebeard store Oct. 14.

The bakery is named after McNair’s difficulty growing facial hair. Strugglebeard Bakery started as a joking hashtag for McNair’s social media posts, but he kept the name as it reflects his desire to balance the goofy and the serious, he said.

“I stuck with the name even though I bake high-quality, gourmet stuff,” McNair said. “I infused my own personality in the shop, the name and everything that we do.”

“Business has been sporadic” since the Hyde Park shop’s opening, but McNair expected that as he opened during a slow season for foot traffic, he said.

“I was either very brave or very foolish to open in the wintertime,” he said. “If you’re not on your Ps and Qs, Hyde Park can either make you or break you.”

Catering and marketing for online orders are the primary focus for now while the business establishes name recognition, he said.

McNair continues to make special orders — including for the cast of “The Wiz” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, he said.

A few of Quinton McNair’s military awards and recognitions are on display in the back of Strugglebeard Bakery. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Strugglebeard Bakery owner Quinton McNair’s “family” of plush toys —including Pamplemousse Leroy Lacroix, Puntus Pirate and Waxamous — sits in front of art depicting the bakery’s Redder Fox and Dr. GQue Rocky Road cookies. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

McNair’s high-energy personality extends to the work environment. He and several staffers did astrology readings, trolled each other constantly, discussed Tina Turner and bantered with customers in between work tasks Wednesday afternoon.

McNair invites neighbors to work remotely from the shop and feed off its energy, whether they buy something or not. With the aromas and display racks filled with baked goods, “you’re going to buy something eventually,” he said.

“If not, and you need a place to get free Wi-Fi and [the space] is helping you to do some work, I’m happy for that,” McNair said. “It’s been times where being productive is been hard for me. If I can help you be productive, come on in.”

McNair also wants to use his mental health and baking experiences to connect with Chicagoans, he said.

McNair plans to launch the Be A King Every Day, or B.A.K.E., mentorship program next year. Young men will learn how to bake while learning about healthy relationships, consent, finances and other life skills “a lot of us don’t learn until we are adults,” he said.

“Right now, I have an apprentice baker who has never baked before, and I’m teaching him everything I know,” McNair said. “I’m trying to get out of the kitchen. The joy is not there when I’m baking hundreds of cookies and dozens of this and dozens of that for orders.”

The shop will also host “bake and sips,” where McNair will teach guests how to bake mini-bundt cakes paired with cocktails that use the same ingredients.

Strugglebeard Bakery is hiring kitchen staff with baking experience. To apply, click here.

Strugglebeard Bakery is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. High school and college students with valid ID get discounts on Tuesdays.

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