A West Side businessman is looking to open a new coffee shop and a grocery store in North Lawndale.

Al Person, who owns Austin’s 3Kings Jerk restaurant, 5451 W. Madison St., is planning to open Sugar Rush, a coffee and ice cream shop, at 620 S. Pulaski Rd. Meanwhile, the grocery store, called North Lawndale Market, will open at 622-628 S. Pulaski Rd. The store will sell fresh food grown by Black farmers, Person said. 

Sugar Rush will open first, sometime in the beginning of November, he said. Person said the grocery store will take longer, because the city found several code violations that the building owner needs to address. He said he hopes to open the grocery store before the year is out. 

Person said that he’s been holding community meetings at the future grocery store space every Wednesday at 6 p.m. He said he plans to hold the regular meetings every week until the grocery store opens. 

Person described himself as a life-long West Sider who, at different points, has lived in Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park. 

He said he owned West Garfield Park’s Family Time Eatery and Snack Shop, 212 S. Pulaski Rd., between 2008 and 2012, and Austin’s Family Time Grocery and Deli, 5616 W, Division St., between 2011 and 2012. 

Person and his wife raised the money to establish the two new businesses, although Person said that they applied for city funding. He said he wants to open the establishments, because “I believe in putting money back into the community that supports me.” 

Person also believes that it’s important for the West Side residents to own businesses in their own communities, citing Little Village, with its vibrant Cermak Road commercial corridor filled with locally owned businesses, as an example of what he would like to see in North Lawndale. Even before the store signs went up, he put “Black Owned Business” signs in the windows.

Person said he also wants to address the West Side’s food desert status. He said the closure of Aldi’s West Garfield Park location, at 3835 W. Madison St., is another blow to residents’ ability to get fresh food.

“We are going to have a full meat market, frozen produce and a full line of groceries,” Person said. “A lot of the stores don’t offer fresh products. We’re going to pride ourselves on keeping updated fresh products.”

North Lawndale Market will get groceries from the Pembroke Farmers Cooperative, a largely Black-owned cooperative based in south suburban Hopkins Park, a town founded by former slaves in the 1860s. 

Person said he discovered the cooperative by accident, after he got lost while driving to Kankakee. While the cooperative sells their food at many Chicago area farmers markets, plenty of food goes unsold. 

“They said a lot of their product they have to throw away, because a lot of people don’t shop with them,” Person said. “They don’t have the outlets to push it. So I told them I’m going to be their outlet.”

Person said his coffee shop will address another thing that the community is missing — a place to get good, fresh coffee. 

North Lawndale does have a handful of coffee shops. Lawndale Christian Health Center’s Green Tomato Cafe, at 3750 W. Ogden Ave., has been open for years, and Beelove Cafe opened at 1111 S. Homan Ave., opened earlier this year. But Person said that many residents still need to travel a good distance to get any kind of coffee.   

The West Side businessman said that, since gourmet coffee and ice cream flavors use similar ingredients, it was only natural to include the ice cream shop component as well. 

“I’m going to bring something to the  community that the community has been longing for, for quite some time,” Person said. “The community has shown tremendous support for the store. I get a lot of supportive emails.”  

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...