Black-owned cafe seeks to end ‘laundering’ of coffee industry
“How much caffeine do you need?” Felton Kizer enjoys asking questions of customers who come to Monday Coffee Company. Then, depending on their response, Kizer sets out to concoct something unique: a cold infusion, a latte, a chai tea.
Monday Coffee Company was launched last October, performing at pop-up events like the Ace Hotel for Compop or the Sauced Sundays in Logan Square. However, for a year and a half earlier, Kizer and his partner Amanda Harth were discussing going into the coffee business. They thought it would be a way to help the community amid the pandemic.
“We wanted to create something that would keep people connected at a time when they couldn’t meet,” said Harth, 33.
More than that, they wanted to start a black and gay owned business that supported similar businesses at a time when calls for social justice resonated across the country.
“I’m not the type to walk around and burn buildings,” Kizer said. “I’m the type to blow up the establishment.”
For Kizer, a queer black man, that meant tackling what he called the bleaching of the coffee industry. He said no matter how many cafes and cafes he went to, he rarely saw someone like him at the bar.
“Where do people get their coffee from? Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Brazil – all very black and brown countries, ”said Kizer, 27. “But I walk into a cafe, and it’s very white, it’s very weird, and it’s very aggressive. Someone takes your culture, literally sells it to you, but also tells you that you are not really good enough to have this thing that is your ancestors.
Now Kizer and Harth are battling this money laundering at Monday Coffee Company’s new home at the former Currency Exchange Café in Washington Park at 305 E. Garfield Blvd.
The residency was offered through the Retreat at Currency Exchange program of the Rebuild Foundation. Rebuild is a non-profit organization founded by artist and University of Chicago professor Theaster Gates. The Retreat program supports black artists and culinary entrepreneurs through things like residences across the South Side.
“When I first met them, I was able to see their passion for their business,” said Gates. “Their kindness combined with their personal work ethic, aesthetics, intention and willingness to innovate with their products is ideal for small businesses. “
As part of the residency, Harth and Kizer created and priced a menu, serving tea and coffee during the day and alcoholic latte cocktails in the evening. Monday Coffee Company’s pomace is roasted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, then brewed on site at its new location. The space also has Wi-Fi and meeting spaces for other entrepreneurs.
Harth and Kizer run Monday Coffee Company based on their idea of sustainability and inclusiveness. They intentionally settled in a predominantly black part of town; their tea comes from a business owned by a black woman; they have direct contact with their coffee bean producers; and they have promised to remain transparent about changes in the business with their clients.
“We don’t want traditional coffee,” Harth said. “We see (Monday Coffee Company) existing in moments and experiences. “
Kizer and Harth agree that what makes Monday Coffee Company so unique is their novelty in the coffee industry. Before starting the business, Kizer was a portrait photographer and Harth was in fashion.
“We don’t have any coffee experience so we can do whatever we want,” Kizer said. “We don’t have this pressure from the industry trying to tell us what to do.”
While Kizer used his interpersonal skills, honed by his years of photography, to help generate an atmosphere of community and comfort, Harth applied his skills in finance and fashion marketing.
“If nothing else, the product is going to look cute!” said Harth. “It’ll be… great branding, great packaging and it’s going to tell a story. “
The café will welcome customers on August 26 at an official launch party. The event will include a coffee tasting, an experiential barista menu, cocktails in the cafe and music by DJ Sean Doe.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen newspaper coverage in communities on the south and west sides.