XO Marshmallow, located in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, is rumored to be the first ever marshmallow cafe. It was created in 2016 and is centered entirely around everyone's favorite fluffy treat. The cafe's menu includes frozen hot chocolate, a toasted marshmallow latte and a s’mores taco, among other offerings.

I got the chance to sit down XO Marshmallow co-owner, Lindzi Shanks. We chatted about the business, her role and, of course, the sweets the cafe revolves around.

Q: Can you tell me what you do for the cafe?

A: "I’m one of the co-owners, so I do all of our marketing, branding and social media—all that good stuff. My business partner is more head of operations. Then, we have an executive chef. They like to say that they make everything taste great and I make everything look pretty."

Q: Who came up with the idea to start the cafe?

A: "Honestly, kinda our customers. We were doing a lot of online sales and we were doing a lot of markets and pop-ups. Every time we would do a market, we would get lines of people who would buy all of our products; it never failed. People would always say, “But what if I want one of these s’mores on like a Tuesday afternoon, what can I do?” We started asking, “Do you guys want an actual location?" And it was a resounding, “Yes.” We decided to do a kickstarter with the idea that if we got fully funded, not only would we have the means to open the cafe, but it would prove to us that our customers really did want to put their money where their mouth was and help us get this space open."

Q: Why marshmallows? Why center an entire restaurant around marshmallows?

A: "Why be okay at a bunch of things when you can be really, really good at one thing? We firmly believe that we are the best when it comes to marshmallows. My business partner started making marshmallows her last year of law school because she needed an inexpensive gift for her large family on a law student's budget. She did one of those "Pinterest hot cocoa in a mason jar" things that happened to come with a recipe for marshmallows and everybody was like, “Okay this cocoa is whatever, but these marshmallows are fantastic.” She started experimenting with it and doing different flavors. Honestly, who doesn’t love a marshmallow? Everyone has a memory at some point of sipping hot cocoa with their family or roasting marshmallows by the fire, so we took that nostalgic feeling and brought it to today."

Q: Did your upbringing in any way influence your love of food, or did your passion for food develop later in life?

A: "I definitely developed a love of food much later in life. I grew up with a single mom of three who had two to three jobs. We had a lot of dollar menu growing up because she just didn’t have time to cook and I didn’t have time to learn. Myself and my sisters were always over-involved in school doing sports, debate and theater. We did an activity then sleep, then activity then sleep. We didn’t really have time to love or appreciate food. Once I moved to Chicago from Texas, I was like, “Gosh, there’s so much stuff here,” and I tried everything I could. I swear my first summer here I gained like 40 pounds just because I wanted to try everything! Then, having such creative, food-oriented people in my life now like Melissa, our executive chef, who pushes my culinary boundaries, allowed me to develop a deeper love for food."

Q: How did you guys go about starting your business? What was the process like?

A: "My business partner came to work for me when I owned a clothing store. She mentioned in her job interview she liked to make marshmallows and I was like, “That’s great, I make coffee mugs, so let’s put the marshmallows in the shop and see what happens.” At the end of Christmas, that was the number-one best-selling item, the marshmallow-mug combo. We decided to become business partners. She already had the name, “XO Marshmallow,” because everything was made with love. We sat down and decided to concept our brand. We went through an entire brand exercise to make decisions about our core brand colors, the branding message and our value. Luckily, with her having a law background, she was able to set up the business side of things. With our different skill sets, we’ve been able to work on two different things at once that allow our business to grow a lot faster. She was over there working on recipe development and making sure the marshmallows were the right consistency, texture and taste, while I was on the other side, starting our social media accounts, opening our website and trying to get followers."

Q: What challenges did you experience when trying to establish your business?

A: "One of the first biggest challenges was explaining to people that it really is marshmallow only. We would do markets, and because it was such a novel concept, people who hadn’t heard of us would be like, “Is this soap?” We were like, “No, it’s marshmallows.” And they would be like, “Oh okay, is it cheese?” We were like, “No, it’s marshmallows.” People weren’t use to gourmet marshmallows, which are square-shaped, hand-made and packaged differently. So, the biggest challenge when we first got started was really explaining the concept of the business to people. Once they got it, they got it, and they loved it. They’ve been with us ever since."

Q: What type of people visit your cafe? Are college students among frequent visitors?

A: "We do definitely get a lot of college students. Because we are an international destination as the world’s first all marshmallow cafe, we do get a wide variety of people who come in. Definitely a lot of different age ranges. Sundays are great. We call Sunday "International day" because it never fails. Almost everyone who comes in the cafe is from a different country. I don’t know if we’re just the last stop before their headed to O’hare Airport. But our core customer is a younger millennial woman who is very interested in being conscious of how she’s spending her money. We like to say our customer votes with their dollar. They are interested in supporting a smaller, female-owned company rather than going to the grocery store and buying a big bag of processed product. They really care about coming in and getting not only the delicious product, but the experience. We say that our Troop XO, which is what we call our customers, comes first, before anything else. If something happens at the cafe, customers' needs and wants come first."

Q: Are you looking to expand your business to other locations in Illinois or throughout the country?

A: "Oh, yes. Kat, my business partner, always says that if I had it my way, we’d already be on our sixth location. I have them all designed and planned out in my head. Right now, we’re just looking for capital to be able to grow. We’ve bootstrapped everything ourselves from day one. My business partner and I have each put $100 into the bank account, and that’s how we got started. We bootstrapped it from there without any outside investments. This is the year we’re finally looking for some investors. Then, we can definitely take this cafe and concept it elsewhere."

Q: What are your most popular menu items? What is your favorite item?

A: "In terms of treats, our most popular menu item is our "Dat Cone Dough." It looks like an ice cream cone but it’s an ice cream cone filled with edible chocolate chip cookie dough. The ice cream part is vanilla marshmallow and then we dip the whole thing in chocolate. In terms of s’mores, people love our classic s'more. We make our own graham crackers in-house. In terms of hot drinks, it’s going to be the s’mores hot chocolate. My favorite is our lavender white hot cocoa. The lavender marshmallow is my favorite marshmallow. I’m a big lavender person."

Q: New food trends are always exploding on social media. What food trends do you see taking off during this new decade?

A: "We did a marshmallow of the month in January that had citric acid on it. We usually gravitate towards whatever we’re feeling at the moment. What seems to end up happening is whatever we’re feeling starts to become a trend. I don’t know if we’re weirdly good at forecasting or what, but we ended up being in an article about how citric acid is going to be the next big thing in pastry. I also feel like savory is really going to have a moment. We’ve experimented with some savory marshmallows. We did an avocado toast marshmallow, we did a pizza marshmallow, and right now we have a bloody mary marshmallow. Without giving anything away, we do have a few savory marshmallows that are coming up for marshmallows of the month. I definitely think that mixture of savory and sweet is only going to grow."

Q: What does the future hold for XO Marshmallow?

A: "One of our main missions is to do for marshmallows what Sprinkles did for cupcakes. We want to grow, but not have too many locations. We don’t want to be Starbucks and have a location on every corner. Marshmallows are too niche of a product to do that. Our goal is more to have these really well-executed, well-curated, niche places in very cool areas like Chicago, Austin and Nashville. And really just take our concept of marshmallows and spread it."

After interviewing Lindzi, I tried XO Marshmallow's hot chocolate. It was absolutely delicious! I highly recommend the cafe to anyone who happens to be in the area.