Sheridan: Emerald City and Other Local Coffeehouses Have Their Own Flavor

Sheridan Stop LogoBy Brianna Kelly and Gabby Coix
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012

There’s something oddly calming about the noise of the Red Line trains rambling overhead when sitting in Emerald City Coffee, located just underneath the Sheridan stop.

The clattering along with the automated voice that says, “doors closing” provides a soundtrack for reading, writing, or just simply sipping coffee at Emerald City, located at the corner of Sheridan Road and Dakin Street in north Lakeview. Not to mention the enticing aroma of roasts from around the world that waft throughout the quaint coffee shop.

Emerald City Coffee management says it has realized the advantages of being located directly under the Red Line at Sheridan. Every morning they receive heavy foot traffic from commuters who are both coming and going from the area. For over a decade it was located in its original spot a few blocks north toward Addison, before the space under the "El" opened up and it made its permanent move to a few years ago.

Emerald City Cafe off of the Sheridan Red Line stop. (Photo by Gabby Coix)

Independent coffee shops have been thriving in Chicago because people want an alternative to corporate coffee chains, which pop up on seemingly every corner of the city.

This summer, Rogers Park will welcome a brand new coffee shop with a lot of heart and soul. A storefront location will open in July right off of the Howard stop, shortly followed by a second “kiosk” location on Loyola’s campus.

Sol Café is the pride and joy of Simone Freeman, 23, of Lincoln Park. Her caffeinated company first came into fruition when she was attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

One day as she casually strolled down the street, a street vendor smiled at her, so she stopped to buy a coffee from him. They began talking and by the end of the conversation he offered her a job. She was the first college student to work at his kiosk. Months later, when he told her he was going to sell the cart, they joked about her buying it from him.

But the seed of what would blossom into Sol Café was planted. She purchased the kiosk and transformed it into a sidewalk haven for her fellow students.

After she graduated from George Washington last spring, she decided to move Sol Café to her hometown of Chicago. She was simply planning to reopen the kiosk on one of the many college campuses, until she got an offer for the storefront location.

She wanted to continue its legacy in an area that would be easily accessible to students, while also maintaining a strong community presence.

The original Sol Café Kiosk in Washington, D.C. 
(Photo courtesy Simone Freeman)

The owner of the historic Howard Theatre, which will be home to the Sol Café storefront, has wanted to include a coffee shop for a number of years without any success.

“The community has been asking for a coffee shop,” Freeman said. “There are 12,000 commuters a day that pass by and they never spend any business on Howard.”

Since Howard is one of the farthest stops on the Red Line, connecting the northern suburbs to the city, it is the ideal location to entice people to stop in for a coffee on their way to work or school.

Freeman lives by the motto “seize the day,” which has been extremely relevant in the foundation of her coffee shop. The entire history of Sol Café is based on being in the right place at the right time.

As a young business owner, she has had a hand in every aspect of building her company from the ground up.

“There are a lot of different elements that I’m working on,” Freeman said, “the build up, the financial aspects, the legal aspects, marketing. Just getting everything set up and coordinated so it’s all ready at the same time has been really challenging.”

Freeman is also faced with the challenges that come with being a female in a male dominated industry.

“[It’s important that I’m] standing my ground and making sure I voice that I do know what I’m doing… and that they don’t underestimate me,” she said.

The Rogers Park Business Alliance approved Sol Café of a $10,000 grant, which will be used to fix the façade and other structural elements of the storefront. Freeman presented the plans, complete with drawing and quotes, to the commission, which granted the money in hopes of making the area between Sheridan and Paulina more atheistically pleasing.

Though the opening is fairly tentative, there are many young people who are eagerly awaiting their first day as a barista at Sol Café. Freeman has already hired nine employees, many of whom are students or artists. She hopes that the baristas will enhance the space to allow “creative minds” to flourish.

“This is not just an enterprise for herself; it’s a family.” Hana Stern, 21, one of Simone’s longtime friends said. “She’s trying to create an environment that is not just a regular café for the people.”

Freeman plans to incorporate a lot of interesting décor into the storefront location. It’s going to have a very down-to-earth atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable utilizing the space.

“I really like the energy that Simone puts into it,” Katie Manos, 21, a future Sol Café employee, said. “It’s unique and is not just going to sell your basic Starbucks coffee.”

Freeman realizes that it is almost impossible to compete with the coffee giants who have hundreds or even thousands of locations across the world.

“For these huge chains, we want to look at the customers and understand why they shop there, and how we can win over their business, by creating a more personal experience,” she said. “We will give each customer beautiful and consistent products that we make with love, and they will all leave ready to take the day in stride.”

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