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  • Writer's pictureKaralynn Cromack

New Family Owned Coffee Shop Invests In Pilsen Community

The Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen is a natural habitat for many family-owned and local businesses. Residents can take shelter in the authentic feeling of being around growing families and neighbors while still experiencing the charm of the city. And among dearly beloved shops like Café Jumping Bean and Pilsen Vintage, another joins the family: A Cup of Joe coffee shop. During the time when this shop was under development, the owners were kind enough to let me come in and learn more about their experience and vision for the neighborhood.

"The vision has been alive for about 7 years now, since I was about 15. He wanted to create a place with no rush where people could come together," exclaims Jose (Boy), one of the founding team members. Boy recounts the times when he needed a workspace or somewhere to sit down with friends without feeling the need to leave right away. This led to the birth of the first A Cup of Joe shop in Garfield Ridge in 2019. This café is a rarity, just considering its location on the southwest side. Boy Franco drew much inspiration from the trendy coffee shops that he would visit up in north Chicago and turned it into something tangible, shining where coffee shops are a rarer commodity.

And now the café team welcomes its younger addition off of 18th Street as of May 1st, 2023. But for them, this isn’t a hello as much as it is a homecoming. The team describes themselves as all being from Pilsen in one way or another. The building that houses the actual café was once a laundromat that they would come to in the past.

Not only has ACOJ come together through experience and dreams, but it has also drawn inspiration from travel. Elements from L.A., San Diego, New York, and Texan cafés have come together at A Cup of Joe. While the space lives up to the competition of hip modern shops, it also knows its own niche. As their catchphrase states, "Café y Cultura." The mother-son duo of Gaby and Boy (Jose) Franco have found a way to marry the tradition and appeal of American coffee culture with the history and cultural spin of their Mexican roots. Jose describes the menu as traditional Americanos and cappuccinos on the menu standing side by side with drinks like horchata or café de olla. Which has origins in the revolutionary war in Mexico. "It's not a syrup; it was meant to prolong the life of the coffee and enhance its flavor." The group tries to have something for everyone so that if they aren’t familiar with a café de olla, they can have a flat white. This carries out with food as well, working to have gluten-free, allergen-free, and vegan treats along with their typical food items. Gaby Franco takes this into consideration, as she mentions that she hates having to tell a customer that she doesn’t have something for them.

Gaby (left) and Jose (Right) with certification for Pilsen location

The road to growth and the process of combining so many bright ideas aren’t without their dark spots, however. Gaby describes bringing together the two worlds as a lot of trial and error. Jose adds on by stating that the shop is special in the fact that it is not afraid to fail and get back up.

Along with the trial and error of making a menu to please every palate, the team recounts the opposition to opening a small business. In the city of Chicago, a Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, or both can be found on every corner. So the family-owned café must consider why people will come into a new business when there are so many spots they already know. "Think that just kind of being able to let people know the product that we have both drink and food quality... Just putting that message out there, like, Hey, you may have to wait a couple minutes, but your items are fresh; nothing is microwaved; nothing is pre-made. Every drink, every time, is made fresh," Gaby answers.

For those who have a similar goal or vision, Boy encourages them not to get easily discouraged. "Especially when you have no customers for the day. We’ve been there, done that, and it’s horrible, but it’s going to be worth it at the end of the day. Just show up every day just as motivated as the previous day, if not even more."

Gaby adds, "You can be a kid from Pilsen and you can succeed. You can have different things that you want, and we’re proof of it," to which Jose also advises to commit yourself to working at it for 5 years.

Since the cafés opening, they have been welcomed with all the warmth of the community, and in addition to giving caffeine, they’ve been making full effort to plant themselves in the community. ACOJ can be seen at many of the Pilsen block festivals, hosting Blue Cross Blue Shield events, and supporting other stores that are new on the block.

Without a doubt, there is a bright future for A Cup of Joe, as it brings caffeine and care to the neighborhood.


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