Coffee with a side of yoga or therapy: Several newer coffee shops in Chicago are leaning into a community-impact model.
That shift will be on display at this weekend’s CoffeeCon in west suburban Warrenville, where roasters, enthusiasts and shop owners will gather to talk about everything from beans to brewing science to coffee’s future.
Among those at the convention will be Jacques Shalo of Kribi Coffee, which opened its first cafe in 2020 and has a strong philanthropic bent. Shalo is among a vanguard of coffee shop owners in the area using their profits to support such issues as mental health, anti-violence efforts and education.
“Coffee in a very broad sense is a really good way of connecting people,” said Abbey Brumfiel, Executive Director of Kribi Coffee. “Coffee is a mood lifter. Coffee shops are a place for people to meet, a place to create, a place to go and think. They’re actually really integral spaces in a community.”
Here’s how Kribi Coffee and two other philanthropically minded coffee entrepreneurs in the Chicago area, Christopher LeMark and Tuan Huynh, are thinking about coffee’s culture shift.
Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health
1501 W. Belmont Ave. in Lakeview
Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health opened in 2019 and dedicates a portion of the proceeds from the cafe to a fund that pays for individual therapy sessions while also hosting group therapy sessions with a licensed therapist in the cafe.
Owner Christopher LeMark said he opened the cafe after he broke down in a crowded Starbucks. The South Side native and hip-hop artist said at the time he was working a dead end job, involved in a troubled relationship and emotional about approaching 40. A year in therapy, he said, changed his life.
“I got so frustrated with my life at that moment that I started crying in the middle of the crowded Starbucks,” LeMark said. “But it just so happened to be the safest space for me to do that in. Nobody looked at me or gave me awkward stares. It felt like the right place to just break down and cry, have those intense feelings and think about how to move forward.”
Now, LeMark hopes to help provide therapy for about 250 people per year through Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health, which also supports local businesses by buying coffee beans and pastries from community vendors.
In addition to therapy, the cafe — which features handcrafted beverages named after hip-hop legends like the Lauryn Hill Lavender Lemonade or the Queen Latifah Chai — is also a place for free yoga, journaling and meditation sessions.
7324 Madison St. in Forest Park and 1033 South Blvd. in Oak Park
Kribi Coffee opened its namesake cafe in Aug. 2020 – just months after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, sparking outrage across the country – and the cafe donates a portion of sales from every bag of signature blends like Black Lives Matter to Tutoring Chicago, a nonprofit organization that provides free lessons to Chicago area students.
Influenced by current events, Kribi often names specialty blends and roasts with causes to support: For example, the Dismantle blend helps support abortions services, the Love is Love blend profits go toward helping the LGBTQ+ community and the Together Strong blend benefits domestic violence resources.
“Community is a huge part of what we do here,” said Brumfiel, Kribi’s executive director. “A lot of people support us because of the organizations that we chose to support. It all kind of comes full circle.”
Shalo, Kribi’s owner, grew up on a family coffee farm in Cameroon and named his west suburban stores after a port town in his native country. Unlike conventional coffee roasting, which relies on heating beans in a drum, Kribi uses “air roasting” to avoid acidic flavors.
The coffee shops hosts various community events, such as open mic nights and entrepreneurial workshops.
1116 W. Madison St. in the West Loop
VietFive in the West Loop establishes relationships between businesses and Chicagoans impacted by violence through founder Tuan Huynh’s nonprofit, Chicago Peace.
Huynh, a Vietnamese refugee, spent 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder before becoming an art director at Leo Burnett. He left his high-profile advertising job to found Chicago Peace and said he supports his charity by buying coffee beans grown on his family’s farm in Vietnam.
“The community in the West Loop in particular has been so welcoming. [The neighboring] small businesses have supported us through patronizing and also by sending their customers our way,” Huynh said. “Their support has helped a lot not only in business but to also spread the word about our mission to make communities across Chicago just as safe and vibrant as the West Loop.”
Huynh’s efforts go beyond the cafe as the space is sometimes used as a community center and hosts programs that celebrate Vietnamese heritage.
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.