Brewing up business in Chicago
Two coffee shops opening up on South State
03/09/2011 10:00 PM
Web Extra! Slideshow
On an overcast Monday afternoon in early March, gray skies sit over State Street, offering that depressing late-winter light in the prime of the day.
But inside Donna’s Café, at 1255 S. State St., the massive pane glass windows at the storefront provide lots of light, diffused and almost brightened by a set of thin white curtains.
The shop’s closed today, but owner Donna Adams is here, sitting in a plush chair near the window with her feet up, talking about how her shop came about.
A retired Chicago Police officer who spent much of her career on the streets in Englewood, she and her fellow officers were always running in high gear with no place to relax in on their short breaks.
She wanted to change that. But, she said, she couldn’t make it work in Englewood, so she shifted her focus to the South Loop.
Adams said she’s getting visits from folks on the force at her South Loop location, but she wants it to be a place for everyone now.
“I think everybody needs a place to go to regenerate,” Adams said. “It’s not police-oriented, but people-oriented.”
While she calls the shop a café, the focus is more on food than coffee. She offers a solid cup of drip coffee, but there’s no espresso drinks or double-soy-mocha-lattes on the menu.
“‘Café’ gives you a vision of a coffee house,” Adams said. “We’re more a hybrid of a restaurant and a coffee house — we come in the middle with no pretensions.”
Instead of fancy drinks, the stars are the hearty, healthy sandwiches, like the “Cool Bird” with turkey, romaine lettuce, Swiss cheese, apple and cranberry mayo; or the “Garden Panini” with garlic hummus, spinach, cucumber, artichoke, grilled eggplant and roasted red pepper.
Now, the focus is on driving more traffic to the shop. Bob Oliver, Adams’ partner in the café, said business has been up and down since they opened in the doldrums of winter.
Their main goal going forward is turning residents who live above the shop into customers. They’re planning an official grand opening celebration on April 23, once they’ve worked out many of the shop’s day-to-day kinks.
But the owners already have some loyal customers. Though the place is closed on Monday, several regulars still came by to knock on the door to say hi to Adams. They’re not deterred by the lack of macchiatos.
“They come in for a regular meal and they ask about coffee,” Adams said. “We’re converting them, one cup at a time.”
Just three blocks down State Street, another new shop is brewing up business with a unique business model. Husband and wife team Amanda and Brandon Neely are working to open up Overflow Coffee Bar in the lobby of a building at 1550 S. State St., where they’ll brew up drinks for a higher purpose.
Their goal is to be a socially active coffee shop, making an impact abroad and at home.
"We thought, what if you could do good around the world through your coffee purchases and in your neighborhood by donating the profits?" Amanda said. "Coffee is the second most widely traded commodity in the world, and Americans are the largest consumers. We thought we could affect change where the beans are grown as well as here.”
They’ll be buying coffee beans from growers at a 25 percent price above fair trade, giving farmers abroad the opportunity to create a better life. Then, once they make a profit at the shop, they’ll take the proceeds and donate them to nonprofits.
Though they realize turning a profit in the current economy isn’t easy, the Neelys are hopeful that they’ll get moving quickly. In the lobby of Daystar School’s annex, they’ll have a customer base to start off with from caffeine-hungry teachers in the building, as well as other nonprofits with their offices just off the lobby.
“If they’re succeeding and there are students coming in from classes, that helps us,” Brandon said. “We provide visibility for them, too.”
If they pass the city’s health inspections, they’re planning to open up their doors to the public on March 21. And if things go right, Amanda said, they could be making donations soon.
“We do plan to make a profit,” Amanda said. “We could even have some money to give away by the end of this year.”Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer