Berwyn: Edgewater Cafe Celebrates One Year In Business

Kitchen Sink PhotoKitchen Sink co-owner Ally Brisbin (right) and employee Annie Laurel
Esslinger pose behind the counter. (Photo by Katie Karpowicz)

Berwyn Stop IconBy Katie Karpowicz
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, March 7, 2011

It’s common knowledge within the food industry that the first year of business is typically the hardest, most make-or-break year for any restaurant. Recently, Edgewater café Kitchen Sink conquered the dreaded “first year “ and celebrated its first anniversary.

Kitchen Sink, located at 1107 W. Berwyn Ave. in Edgewater, is open seven days a week. The café offers full breakfast and lunch menus.

Co-owners Jeff Fox and Ally Brisbin, both originally from upstate New York, were employees of the restaurant space’s former occupant, Paws, also a coffee shop. The pair bought the space from Paws’ owner, renovated the entire space themselves—save for a plumber and electrician, created a menu and opened Kitchen Sink as an independent barista-owned café on Jan. 4, 2010.

Audio slideshow featuring Kitchen SInk co-owner Ally Brisbin discussing Kitchen Sink's first year.

While Brisbin and Fox drew from experiences with Paws as well as other previous jobs in the food industry, they worked to make Kitchen Sink their own creation. Paws, for instance, did not have a food menu. Fox developed Kitchen Sink’s menu himself.

“I just took what I had learned from jobs I had at other restaurants,” he said. ”I basically just tried to think of things [for the menu] that I would want to order.”

The improvements that Brisbin and Fox have made on the typical coffee shop haven’t gone unnoticed by customers, nor by the owners themselves.

“I think having good sandwiches that are made to order is kind of a unique thing,” Brisbin said. "Usually at coffee shops they’re wrapped and cold and soggy and maybe a few days old…We wanted something to take pride in and something that we would want to eat.”

Kitchen Sink was welcomed by the Edgewater community and experienced an overflow from Paws’ former customer base to help keep business afloat during its first year.

Brisbin and Fox have focused not only on feeling at home themselves in the Edgewater community, but also providing an enjoyable working environment for their employees.

“We have four employees right now,” Brisbin said. “We’re all buddies and it’s a nice work environment.”

Annie Laurel Esslinger has been a Kitchen Sink employee for just under a year. Esslinger moved to Edgewater last year and met Fox through her husband, a high school friend of Fox’s.

“Jeff and Ally’s style comes out [in Kitchen Sink],” Esslinger said. “I mean from Jeff’s menu to the décor to just how things are run. They both worked in the food industry, so it’s kind of their own version, which is nice. It’s unique by nature.”

While Fox heads up the menu development, Brisbin, a current graduate student at DePaul University in the New Media program, works to give Kitchen Sink a face in the Edgewater—and online—community. Kitchen Sink can be found on Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo. Brisbin recognizes the importance of keeping her business up-to-date on social media.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” Brisbin said. “I was hitting myself today because I looked at our Twitter account and realized that I hadn’t tweeted in five days…But I think in the end it is worth the time. Facebook is a little bit easier for me because I understand it better than Twitter. And you do see a reaction, but then you have to respond. That’s something I’m constantly trying to get better about.”

However, Kitchen Sink is just as concerned with its on-site customers as it is its virtual community members. The café has held several art and music shows during the past year, including an art show last Friday showcasing work by Ukrainian village resident Sarah Leitten.

“I like to come to the art openings and music stuff,” Esslinger said. “I like how [Fox and Brisbin] apply their tastes and interests in their own venue.”

Kitchen Sink’s popularity continues to grow within and even beyond the Edgewater community.

“It’s kind of weird,” Brisbin said. “Even now I think about it. This is my thing that I did with my friend and it’s doing well. I overheard two people who met up here yesterday. One of them was a regular and the other I had never seen before and they were saying that they had heard of this place. It’s just weird to think that something I did people have heard of.”

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