On the night of Feb. 16, the chilly wind and snow piling up outside did not deter crowds of people from looking for a good time at Emporium Chicago in Logan Square.

Sauced Night Market had taken over. With it came vendors from all aspects of Chicago’s creative platforms, including chefs, caterers, brewers, jewelers, underwear-makers and more.


The one-woman show behind it all, Sarah Freeman, can be found keeping a watchful eye on the event at hand. She was hard to miss, tall and slender, shoulder-length curly brown hair and a PBR in hand. Freeman created Sauced a year and a half ago with two friends, who are no longer affiliated with the business. She welcomes the interactions with chefs and artists as a fun escape from her career as a food writer, which keeps her behind a computer screen all day.

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Freeman seeks out the underdog of the creative scene. Or, they seek her out. Either way, Sauced provides the springing platform for an artist’s next step. One rapping violinist performed with Chance the Rapper on SNL because of her exposure at a Sauced event last month. Booths displaying graphic-novel themed underwear with ludicrously funny phrases referring to periods, handmade stone jewelry and different food vendors stood by pool tables, arcade games and local DJ Tony Trimm. Two Chicago brewers, Middle Brow and Corridor, handed out samples. People lined the walls, cups in hand, enjoying the neon lighting and loud music. For a weekday night, post-snow flurries, Sauced had Emporium surprisingly full.


CUSP Magazine spoke with founder Sarah Freeman to find out what Sauced Night Market is all about.

Q&A – CUSP Magazine & Sauced Night Market

CUSP Magazine: What is Sauced?

Sarah Freeman: Sauced is a space where local chefs, artists, artisans, brewers, bartenders and basically anyone doing something creative in Chicago can come together for one night. It’s a very low-key, high-energy environment. We’ve been in business for almost a year and a half.

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CM: Were you there when it started?

SF: I founded it. There were three of us that came together. My friend and I were drunk one night and were just rambling about how cool it would be if there was a space for people who maybe don’t have their own brick and mortar, either artist studio, restaurant, bar, whatever — a place for them to all come together and showcase their work, and it wouldn’t cost them an arm and a leg to do it. A place for people who are just getting started or who don’t have a lot of funds behind them or are maybe in between projects. We had all of these ideas, like it’ll be neon with loud music at night. I thought that sounded like an Asian night market that is super popular in Vietnam and Taiwan.

CM: Where did you hear about those markets?

SF: Through work and through my job. I know they’ve been replicated in New York and California. I looked into ones in New York and thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Chicago had something like that?” So, we woke up the next day and decided that it still sounded like a good idea, even sober. We looped in another friend of mine who had some experience doing daytime markets, and the three of us created Sauced a month later.

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CM: What steps did you take to make Sauced go from a drunken idea to a real thing?

SF: We sat down and asked what the elements are that we want. A: that it’s an event. We knew that it was going to be an event, a pop-up at night. Then, what do we want to have at all these events? Me, coming from a food background, I want chefs, but not big name chefs necessarily. I want the guys who are working on food trucks, the guys that want to open a restaurant but don’t have the space yet. The guys that are hosting underground supper clubs. I want those guys to be showcased in this underground setting. It’s low budget, low resources and bringing some lesser-known talent into the spotlight. The girl who worked in the brewery obviously wanted beer there. We expanded that and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a guest bartender making cocktails?” So we added that too. We thought, “Let’s bring in some local retailers.” Again, people who don’t have a huge presence in the city that are getting started or artists that we really admire. We bring in a lot of street artists. We want our vendors to be profitable and have a good time, and we want our guests to have a good time. Once we had all the elements we wanted, we found a space. This is the first space that we worked in a year and a half ago, and we come back to it a lot. We’ve done probably about 10 events here. We’ve done other events at Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Soho house, and we’ve done smaller ones in art galleries, but Emporium was our first space. We love being here. It works really well for the energy we want to capture.

CM: What is that energy that you want to capture?

SF: It sounds so cliché, but we just wanted it to be cool. It’s funny, a lot of thought went into what kind of cool are we. One of the first things we created was our logo, and we built our brand around that logo. It’s inspired by an old neon bar sign. We started with this idea of wanting to be a little bit edgier, very urban/Chicago-focused. We thought of songs that inspired us and colors that inspired us.

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CM: What songs and colors inspired you?

SF: I believe in our description we allude to Notorious B.I.G. and Biggie Smalls. “Hypnotize” is one of the songs that we referenced. Imagine ‘90s hip-hop. Start with ‘90s hip-hop and see where that takes you. Chances are, you’ll end up in a pretty fun place. We went from there and developed our voice. That expanded into what kind of vendors we want to be bringing in. We don’t work with a lot of arts and craft vendors. I think there are markets that do showcase stuff like that, and we specifically did not want to compete in that realm.

CM: What sets apart your artists and vendors?

SF: Our artists have more of an industrial aesthetic. We’ve got the guys over there that make underwear that looks like a graphic novel. We’ve got these beer candle makers. Last month we had someone who made custom denim jeans. We try to keep it at a lower price point, because it is a free event, and we want our vendors to walk away having made money as well.

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CM: How does Sauced make money as a free event?

SF: Not well, we’re still working on that. There’s a vendor fee if they want to participate. It’s for whoever wants to showcase their stuff in a market. It’s a low vendor fee compared to some of our competitors at $150, flat rate. For certain cases, we have an artist’s rate. That’s $75, but we limit that to two or three vendors per market, and we’re always looking for sponsors. We work a lot with beer and liquor brands to come in and help us. We make money, but we also pay the artists that we work with. We work a lot with local photographers and local DJs. We have had events where we would bring in street artists, and they would do live paint murals during the event. It would be awesome if we could pay those guys. Art is free, but their time is not.

Sarah – “People come here because they like what we bring, and they like the people we bring to these markets. They want to see the next up-and-coming chef, find a new jewelry designer or try some beer that they’ve never had before.”

CM: How do you find your vendors?

SF: It’s a mix of people coming to us and us finding them. Obviously, at the beginning, we were the ones reaching out to people. It was a lot of, “Hey, we have this idea and we hope you think it’s cool, so please, please just believe in us and be a part of it.” The ones who get it are receptive to that, and we’re good at working with the ones who are in tune with that lifestyle. For example, Hapa is one of our first vendors. They are an Asian-American food concept. They had been throwing around this idea of starting a catering company, restaurant or food truck, and they didn’t know how to start it. They created their company the same time we created our company, and they’ve been one of our most popular vendors since the beginning. We’re all about creating a platform for our vendors. It’s about making money, but it’s also about exposure. I think we have a pretty loyal crowd. People come here because they like what we bring, and they like the people we bring to these markets. They want to see the next up-and-coming chef, find a new jewelry designer or try some beer that they’ve never had before.

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CM: What was your first event like?

SF: It was crazy. We put it together in six weeks, and we did very little marketing. We made some stickers and some flyers, and we put them up around Chicago. We made a Facebook event and 500 or 700 people showed up. We had no idea what to expect. It was the three of us then. We blew out the power four times in here, and we continue to blow out the power pretty much anywhere we go, because we encourage our vendors to cook on sight. It’s part of when you go to an Asian night market, it’s about the smells and sounds of music sizzling, the smell of the smoke. It’s a very sensory experience. We wanted to recreate that as much as possible. Our vendors need a lot of electricity that not all of our spaces have. We figured it out. It was great. We were not expecting that many people to show up, but I think when we had that initial idea, we had kind of hit on something that the city needed.  That’s what any business is, filling a void. And if you do it well and people respond to it, you keep going. We try to add new elements or different vendors every time to keep it interesting, but it snowballed from there.

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CM: What do you have planned for the future of Sauced?

SF: We’re going to keep doing what we do. We did our first pop-up dinner last month. We took over an art gallery and brought in Chef Brandon Baltzley, who used to be a chef here. He just opened a restaurant in Cape Cod. He’s got a reputation for being a bit of a bad boy chef. I think he’s incredibly talented and does some really interesting stuff with food, so we created a space for him to create that food. We did a three night pop-up dinner. He served whole grilled fish that we gave to people as is and told them to eat it with their hands, and they did. It was really fun and really delicious. That’s an avenue we’re exploring, bringing in chefs from out of town or working with chefs who want a little bit more than the market atmosphere can provide. Aside from that, we’ll probably be back at Thalia Hall in April. That’s always a big event for us, because the space is so huge. Last month we had a rapping violinist perform, and because of her performance there, she ended up performing with Chance the Rapper on SNL three weeks later. A friend of mine is a producer at Fox and saw her perform then booked her on the Morning Show the next week. I believe Chance saw her on the Morning Show, and they flew her out to New York a week later to perform with him during the Sunday Candy performance on SNL.  That’s the whole point. You will very rarely see my name affiliated with Sauced. It’s always been about putting our vendors in the best light, letting them steal the show.

CM: Who are you looking at for your next event?

SF: We’re talking to some chefs down at Three Floyds, because they were part of the Brian pop-up dinner. They only did one course, but it was this amazing pork dish. It was so good. They provided the beer for the dinner too. I told them I would love to have them at Sauced, and they were super into the idea. I encourage anyone who loves food or loves art and has the talent for it to just email me and say this is what I do, can I be at your market? If it fits our brand or aesthetic, then I am more than happy to make that happen.

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CM: Are there any chefs or restaurants that you’re really excited about lately?

SF: Tonight we have Brian Fisher, a former chef from Schwa. He’s doing a little pork belly bahn mi sandwich. He plans on opening up his own restaurant in the future. Also, I’m so excited for what the Hapa guys can do in the future.

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CM: Where does the name Sauced come from?

SF: We brainstormed for a very long time about that. We wanted one word to catch all of those aspects: the food, drink and rowdiness. Sauced can apply to both food and beverage, and I think it’s a really good descriptor for someone having a little too much fun. And it just rolls off the tongue.

Freeman told CUSP Magazine that Sauced is set to return in March, and Chicagoans can expect to see an equally varied group of creative artists, artisans and foodies. Be on the lookout for the next free event by following Sauced Night Market on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or by checking out their website. We’ll see you there.  

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Evelyn Baker