The owners of a new coffeehouse set to open next month in Oak Park have ambitions that go beyond serving cups of java.
L!VE Cafe, scheduled to open in mid-November at 136 S. Oak Park Ave., will be “an event cafe and creative space that aims to build bridges between communities with different demographic make ups, specifically the Oak Park and Austin communities,” according to co-owner Darrel Washington.
Washington, a self-described coffee enthusiast, said in addition to that larger mission, the cafe’s product will be more sophisticated than west suburban and West Side consumers may be used to.
“Specialty coffee shops don’t exist anywhere in the area,” Washington said. “This will be a place where you can experience a coffee tasting, a nitro brew and really dive into the culture of coffee as opposed to going somewhere with the mindset, ‘I need coffee, so I’ll just get a cup.'”
Washington said L!VE will have two primary roasters of specialty-grade coffee — Wheaton-based River City Roasters and I Have a Bean — each of which blends their roasting production with social values.
“River City is very mission-driven and focused on building relationships — not just stateside, but across the waters where farmers themselves are,” Washington said. “I Have a Bean focuses on hiring felons. They’ve developed a process of roasting that’s easy enough for someone coming fresh out of jail who needs money to learn and make a living on without spending years in school.”
Washington’s wife, Resheeda, a former Oak Park and River Forest High School English teacher, said the couple envisions the space as an intersection of diverse ideas, people and experiences.
“We have a significant heart and passion for bringing communities together,” Resheeda said. “When we see communities like Austin that are resilient in non-fiscal ways, robust and dignified and proud, and they’re situated next to communities like Oak Park, which may have many of those same tenets in addition to having financial resources along with socioeconomic robustness — we think there’s an opportunity for some mutuality. We think those communities can learn from each other.”
She said they want to “shift away from” a model of philanthropy that’s a one-way street, with limited resources flowing from wealthy communities into relatively impoverished ones with little to no reciprocity.
“We want to think about the assets of both communities and how they can strengthen and grow each other,” she said.
The couple provided much of the startup capital for the cafe out of their own pockets, she said, but additional resources came in the form of people they consider partners giving small donations over a period of roughly a year, plus volunteers giving time and in-kind donations (like furniture for the cafe), and substantial funding from Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest.
The latter, the couple said, decided to take a risk on the non-traditional nature of their business concept.
“They were willing to work with us and come up with a plan and some possibilities that have helped us to exist,” Resheeda said, “so we’re grateful for the pliability that they’ve exhibited as a partner.”