The West Side is going upscale. West Side Coffee Express, 314 N. Pulaski, is further evidence. It is the latest of several businesses operating from Bethel New Life’s beautiful business center on Lake Street.

Minnie and Joe Smith are longtime Garfield Park residents, who, over the past 50 years, have fulfilled many of their dreams. The Smiths raised six children and once ran a BBQ restaurant on Chicago’s South Side. Minnie serves as president of their block club and tends three community gardens in their West Side neighborhood.

When the coffee shop, officially, in July, Minnie was quoted as saying, “There used to be a restaurant on this corner years ago, but it’s long gone. We didn’t have any coffee places in our area, and everybody wanted a place where we could have meetings and get a cup of coffee.”

Owning a business in Garfield Park is a lifelong dream for Minnie and Joe, and it’s one they say they couldn’t have accomplished without the help of Bethel New Life, Inc.-through the development of the Bethel Center, a “green-designed,” multi-use development connected to the Green Line el station at Lake and Pulaski. With businesses such as West Side Coffee Express, a dry cleaner, day care, Community Saving Center and employment center, Bethel New Life is making dreams come true for many Garfield Park residents.

Brenda Smith is a co-owner of West Side Coffee Express and one of Minnie and Joe Smith’s six children. She has an outgoing personality a beautiful big smile and a down-home style. Because Brenda’s mother and father were away celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, Brenda served as spokesperson.

AWN: What made your mom and dad start this business?

Brenda Smith: Being a part of the community and going to different community meetings, they soon realized a coffee shop would be a good place where people could go relax and have a cup of coffee. We did not have such a place in our community, so we decided to open a coffee shop. This would be a place where we could have community meetings [and] seniors could come by early in the morning and have coffee. So this is some of how the idea came about. My mother, who is very involved in community activities, had wanted to have a coffee shop, so she and my dad made their dream come true this summer.

AWN: How instrumental was Bethel New Life in this venture?

BS: Bethel has partnered with the community, and they have been a great help with our landscaping business. So when we decided to do the coffee shop, we knew of the shops they were developing on Lake & Pulaski, and we asked if we could have this location. Bethel said we would have to put in a proposal, and once they looked over our bid, they felt our business would be an ideal fit. We also were already community-based with the landscaping business (Home Management Beautification & Landscaping). My parents had this business for many years and are also very well known in the West Side community. We started Home Management with community gardening-flowers for various blocks-and so we decided to branch out into landscaping during the last 10 years or so.

AWN: What other products do you sell?

BS: We have a variety of pastries. We get our products fresh and test them. We also let our customers test them. We prepared homemade sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, coconut pie, pecan pie, and we have a great cheesecake. Already we have had several large orders accommodating parties and banquets. We have special sandwiches in the mornings-breakfast sandwiches, such as sausage, eggs and biscuits. We also have croissant sandwiches, grits, oatmeal, cereal and fresh fruit and a host of delicious donuts. During the afternoon, we offer all types of smoothies-a person can create their own. It is our herbal teas that really have people coming back again and again. Brenda’s Uncle Dohn calls it “Mississippi Tea.”

During the interview, a youngster around 10 years old said he was their best customer-he just loved that tea. According to Brenda the CTA personnel across the street are some of their best customers. West Side Coffee Express also offers wireless Internet access.

A must-do experience is “The Chair”-for $5, you can get 15 minutes of unbelievable body therapy. The atmosphere is very relaxing with a fireplace and cozy living room seating for those persons who want to chat with friends while enjoying coffee. 

It was appropriate that on the day of this interview (Aug. 7) Bethel New Life was being awarded the Metropolitan Planning Council’s 2006 Award for its Bethel Center and Parkside Estates Developments on Chicago’s West Side.