A Black-Owned Coffee Company Takes Root on Chicago’s West Side

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Chicago has, in recent years, seen a mini-boom in Black-owned coffee businesses and now one of the scene’s newest entries is bringing its strong brews to a West Side neighborhood largely bereft of coffee options. Monday Coffee Co., the fledgling operation from co-owners Amanda Harth and Felton Kizer, is popping up with single-origin espresso and pour-over coffee, kombucha, and more three days a week through the end of February at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

A barista pours hot water out of a kettle into a chemex coffee brewing vessel.
Kizer demonstrates pour-over form.

Patrons can find the caffeine hotspot tucked among the flora in the Horticulture Hall room from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Coffee offerings are supplemented with treats from other local vendors, such as coffee cakes from caterer Lisa Shaw, cookies from Soho House’s Paper Thin Pizza, and fermented drinks from Komunity Kombucha.

Though Kizer had barista experience before opening Monday Coffee, Harth was a newcomer to the industry. They first debuted in October 2020, selling beans online and at at pop-up markets like Sauced in Logan Square. By August 2021, Harth and Kizer had snagged a six-month residency at Retreat at Currency Exchange, a program from artist Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation designed to support Black artists and entrepreneurs. They also built experience at Soho House in West Loop, offering coffee daily from August through the end of December.

“It’s been a learning experience that’s fun with some challenging parts,” Harth says. “[The residency] was about figuring out what we wanted the Monday Coffee experience to look like, and we had time to do that in [Retreat’s] space.”

Coffee pours out of a glass chemex into a small paper cup stamped with the words “Monday Coffee Club” in black letters.
Coffee drinks may have patrons buzzing around the conservatory’s flowers.

The co-owners’s newness, they say, gives them enormous freedom. “We’re able to create the world that we want around coffee,” Kizer says. “We’re not thinking about any ‘traditional’ limitations on what this needs to look like. We’re creating our own standards.”

Priorities have quickly emerged: in-person interaction, education, community. They also hope to have a hand in the larger project of creating equity for Black and Brown people in the coffee world, working to end what Kizer has called a “whitewashing” of the industry. Despite coffee’s origins in countries like Ethiopia, Brazil, and Costa Rica, the pair describe an industry in the U.S. that’s dominated by white faces and some stereotypical snobbery that can alienate BIPOC patrons (Black, Indigenous, people of color).

They’re not alone in that pursuit. Chicago has as of late seen a growing number of Black-owned coffee shops and vendors, including Japanese cold brew spot Kyoto Black in Edgewater, Chicago French Press in South Loop’s Roosevelt Collection, and Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea in Auburn Gresham.

In the coming years, the Harth and Kizer hope to open a public coffee lab where individuals and fellow small coffee business owners can relax, sip, and learn. Kizer likens the model to that of breweries that offer tours and tastings. “Think about how beer breweries blew up with that same type of model,” he says. “Why not do that with coffee? I think Chicago is ready for something like that.”

Monday Coffee Co. at the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Horticulture Hall room, 300 N. Central Park Avenue, Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

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