Youth with the South Chicago branch library's YouMedia program, Indigo owner Jessica Smith (in white, at center) and local leaders like Rep. Curtis Tarver and Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (far left) pose in front of the future Indigo café, 3008 E. 92nd St. Credit: Provided

SOUTH CHICAGO — A lifelong South Chicago resident is opening a café and gathering space in her community.

Owner Jessica Smith plans to open Indigo in a former tavern at 3008 E. 92nd St. by fall. Indigo will offer coffee, tea, juices, salads, açaí bowls and other “lighter fare,” Smith said.

It will be a “plant-forward” coffeehouse with a menu inspired by African cultures and communities of the African diaspora, with offerings like the Ethiopian spris drink, a “really pretty” layered smoothie of avocado, papaya and mango, Smith said.

Smith, who also operates the food and nutrition nonprofit Plates On Purpose, intends to source ingredients locally from farms like the Urban Growers Collective in nearby Schafer Park and neighborhood grocers like La Fruteria and Macias Produce, she said.

“I personally tend to stay away from words like, ‘It’s healthy’ — those aren’t terms that necessarily excite folks, and it’s not going to make people come through the doors,” Smith said. “I’m going to focus on the flavors, the tastes, the culture, the energy, the connections and the flow of the space more than the nutrition, even though I’m a nutritionist and it does matter to me.”

Youth artist with the South Chicago branch library’s YouMedia program put the finishing touches on a mural to beautify the former tavern at 3008 E. 92nd St. until it can be rehabbed and the Indigo café can open there. Credit: Provided

Smith received a $250,000 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant for Indigo in January. It will be used toward construction costs, she said.

Smith’s planning a gut rehab of the building to make “everything geared toward interaction and gathering,” like a community-style table as a centerpiece and a social media space for youth to film TikToks or take Instagram photos, she said.

The media space is “going to be really fun in whatever form that takes,” Smith said.

Smith has also worked with landscape architect Douglas Williams to incorporate “edible plants, trees and bushes and berries — things that were native to the area” into the property’s layout, she said.

“It’s a dreamscape. It’s going to be an oasis in the middle of this city block,” she said.

The interior of the former tavern at 3008 E. 92nd St., which will be cleared out and renovated in its entirety, owner Jessica Smith said. Credit: Provided
A hand-drawn rendering of landscape plans for the Indigo café. “Plates On Purpose,” which is the name of Smith’s nonprofit, reflects the drawing’s creation before Indigo had a name and the nonprofit won’t be involved in the café, she said. Credit: Douglas Williams

Indigo is a “few months out from a groundbreaking on construction,” Smith said. She collaborated with youth at the South Chicago branch of the Chicago Public Library to paint a mural and beautify the site until work can begin.

The kids, including Smith’s daughter, met twice a week in September and October to complete the mural with YouMedia program instructor Arion Davis. The mural reads “Good Things Are Going To Come To Us” and features paintings of produce and plants.

“I absolutely loved every part of it,” Smith said. The kids “were at the mural unveiling [in November]; they just walked over from the library, and people from across the street who own businesses were able to walk over.”

Youth with the South Chicago branch library’s YouMedia program paint a white basecoat on the Indigo mural. Credit: Provided

The mural is a “temporary beautification” effort “that will get us to the construction phase,” Smith said.

It’s also a reminder to neighbors that Smith has serious plans for the building after buying it in August 2021, which is important in a community with absentee property owners and commercial vacancies, she said.

“People are walking past us on a very busy street right at 92nd and Commercial,” Smith said. “It gets a lot of foot traffic. I didn’t want to be the owner of a space and have other people feel how I feel when I look at vacant space in my community.”

Indigo will be a much-needed gathering space in South Chicago, where Smith was born, raised and now owns a home, she said.

“I do a lot of work where I go to cafés [and get] things done,” Smith said. “I love them and I travel for them — the different experiences and motifs and energy that each one has. I want people from all over the city to come to Indigo and experience this part of South Chicago.”

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