The Friendly Wash (3333 W. Fullerton Ave.) is clean and bright, with working machines, drop-off service, and free Wi-Fi—about as pleasant as laundromats get. There are worse places to part with your quarters.
Still, owner Tony Kahan understands you’d probably rather be somewhere else. The least he could offer you is a snack upgrade.
Don’t go looking for avocado toast, now—not yet, anyway. But if you’re in the mood for a freshly glazed Long John or a cup of strong Colombian roast, the artisan kind you’d find at a place that does serve avocado toast, head to the back counter of this Logan Square laundromat.
The doughnuts are delivered daily from Somethin’ Sweet, a husband-and-wife-owned shop in Belmont-Cragin. The coffee, brewed on-site, is from Big Shoulders Coffee in West Town. It’s $2 per doughnut or 12-ounce cup.
There’s more to come. Within three to six months, Kahan (no relation to chef Paul Kahan of One Off Hospitality) says he’ll convert a section of the laundromat near the doughnut counter into a “chill” seating area. He’ll follow that with a succinct menu of retro-themed sandwiches; think toasted Fluffernutters and liverwurst on white bread.
“I’d love to even make it an incubator for food people who want to do pop-ups here,” he says.
Kahan’s quick to point out he’s not a food person. A former real estate broker, he got into the laundry business in 2006 and owns three other Friendly Washes in the city. When he took over the Logan Square location last year—a no-brainer, he says, given its corner lot and ample parking—he was pleased to find it was set up to sell food, with a grease trap, triple-basin sink, and hand sink installed.
After getting the required licensing from the city and foodservice certification for himself and select employees, he knew he could make good on his promise to Jimmy and Ling Chao, who own Somethin’ Sweet.
Kahan befriended the Cambodian couple a few years back after discovering their doughnut shop by accident. It’s down the block from the Friendly Wash in Belmont-Cragin.
“I was having a very animated conversation with one of my employees—it was more of a one-way conversation—and I had to get him away from the store. So we walk down to Jimmy’s shop to check it out, we get our doughnuts, and we’re talking, and I take a bite and another bite, and I say to the kid, ‘Dude, can we call a timeout? Is this the best fricking doughnut you’ve ever had in your life?,’" says Kahan.
Since then, he’s been telling the Chaos he would someday sell their doughnuts in his laundromats. They in turn introduced him to Big Shoulders Coffee.
“We give them the best choice,” says Jimmy Chao. That typically includes red velvet, old-fashioned, and blueberry cake.
“Tony has a brilliant idea, believe me,” says Chao.
The laundromat hangout does seem a genius concept, and there is precedent. The late Joz’s Launder-Bar and Cafe—the Launder-Bar, to regulars—had a good run at 3435 North Southport Avenue from 1987 until the mid-2000s. Portland and San Francisco have taken it a step further, with Laundromat cafes that serve booze.
“Laundromats, when done well, are neighborhood meeting places,” says Brian Wallace, president and CEO of the Oak Brook-based Coin Laundry Association. But the trend has “ebbed and flowed,” never fully catching on, Wallace says, because “the prevailing winds have been toward focus on the core business of washing and drying clothes and taking great care of customers.”
A local IPA on tap? That’s nice. Laundry pick-up and delivery? Even better.
If there’s a neighborhood where the hybrid laundromat could work (again), Kahan believes it’s Logan Square, with its dense rental housing stock, mix of residents, and indie-business focus. ”We’re trying to address a changing demographic,” he says. “We want to create community. We want people to be comfortable here. It’s not changing the world, but it’s something.”
On a recent snowy morning, Jesse Saunders, 24, a restaurant worker, said he intended to wait out his wash at a nearby cafe. But then he saw signs advertising the back-counter treats.
“I was actually pleasantly surprised because typically it’s just vending machines,” Saunders said, alternately sipping coffee and checking his iPhone. “Big Shoulders is good coffee.”
Right now, the doughnuts and coffee are limited to mornings until noon, or whenever they sell out. Kahan hasn’t yet discerned a pattern in sales, but there’s one thing he and Laura Greco, his laundry attendant of 15 years, have noticed. “A lot of outsiders coming just for the coffee and doughnuts,” says Greco.