“How Much Caffeine Do You Need?” Felton Kizer likes to ask customers who come to Monday Coffee Company. Then, depending on the reaction, Kizer sets off to prepare something unique: a cold brew, a latte, a chai tea.
The Monday Coffee Company was founded last October and performed at pop-up events such as the Ace Hotel for Compop or the Sauced Sundays in Logan Square. Before that, however, Kizer and his partner Amanda Harth had discussed entering the coffee business for a year and a half. They felt it was a way to advance 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.
They also wanted to start a black-and-queer-owned company that would support similar businesses at a time when calls for social justice were rising across the country.
“I’m not the type to march and burn down buildings,” said Kizer. “I’m the kind of guy who blows up the establishment.”
For Kizer, a queer black man, that meant dealing with what he called the coffee industry whites. He said no matter how many coffeehouses and cafes he visited, he rarely saw anyone behind the wheel who looked like him.
“Where do people get their coffee from? Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Brazil – all very black and brown countries, “said Kizer, 27.” But I go to a cafe and it’s very white, very strange and very aggressive. Someone is taking your culture from you, literally selling it back to you, but also telling you that you are not really good enough to have this thing that is part of your ancestors. “
Now Kizer and Harth are fighting this whitewash through the new residence of the Monday Coffee Company in the former Currency Exchange Café in Washington Park at 305 E. Garfield Blvd.
The residency was offered through the Rebuild Foundation’s Retreat at Currency Exchange program. Rebuild is a not-for-profit organization founded by artist and professor Theaster Gates at the University of Chicago. The retreat program supports black artists and culinary entrepreneurs through things like residencies in the South Side.
“When I met her, I could see her passion for her business,” said Gates. “Their friendliness combined with their personal work ethic, aesthetics, intent and willingness to innovate with their products is great for small businesses.”
As part of the residence, Harth and Kizer created a menu that served tea and coffee during the day and drunken latte cocktails in the evening. Monday Coffee Company’s soil is roasted in Grand Rapids, Michigan and then brewed on site at their new location. The space also has Wi-Fi and meeting rooms for other entrepreneurs.
Harth and Kizer run the Monday Coffee Company based on their idea of sustainability and inclusivity. They deliberately settled in a predominantly black area of the city; her tea comes from a black women’s company; they have direct contact with their coffee bean farmers; and they have promised to remain transparent about changes in business with their customers.
“We don’t want the traditional café,” said Harth. “We see (Monday Coffee Company) exist in moments and experiences.”
Kizer and Harth agree that what makes Monday Coffee Company so unique is their novelty in the coffee industry. Before the company was founded, Kizer was a portrait photographer and Harth was fashionable.
“We have no experience with coffee, so we could do what we wanted,” said Kizer. “We don’t have the pressure from the industry to tell us what to do.”
While Kizer used his interpersonal skills acquired during his photography days to create an atmosphere of community and comfort, Harth applied her finance and marketing skills from the fashion industry.
“If nothing else, the product will look cute!” Said Harth. “It’s going to be … great branding, great packaging, and it’s going to tell a story.”
The coffeehouse will welcome customers to an official launch party on August 26th. The event includes a coffee tasting, a fun barista menu, coffee cocktails and music by DJ Sean Doe.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a nonprofit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the south and west sides.