Janine Ramirez-Waszkowski and Mike Waszkowski run Rivers & Roads. Credit: Alec Karam/Block Club Chicago

EDGEWATER — Changes have come to Edgewater’s Ellipsis Coffeehouse over the past year — including a new name unveiled last month.

Now called Rivers & Roads Cafe, 1259 W. Devon Ave., the coffee shop offers the same Counter Culture coffee as before with added bakery items and seasonal coffee flavors — plus bagels courtesy of Edge of Sweetness Bakery and a BLT sandwich.

High school sweethearts Mike Waszkowski and Janine Ramirez-Waszkowski moved back to Chicago after a decade in Los Angeles to take over the cafe last year. The coffee spot builds upon Ramirez-Waszkowski’s baking company, which she launched during the pandemic.

Ramirez-Waszkowski makes the coffee syrups and the bakery items, and the specialty coffee menu rotates each month alongside staple flavors.

For May, the cafe is offering the Smokey Mocha, which uses a smoky ancho chili mocha syrup; a mango coconut matcha latte; a coconut caramel latte and a horchata cold brew. 

“I try to base that off what is trending and what people want when that season comes around,” Waszkowski-Ramirez said. “By having new flavors every month, it keeps things fresh and allows people to step out of their comfort zone and try new flavors that they wouldn’t normally put in their coffee.”

Rivers & Roads Cafe in Edgewater. Credit: Alec Karam/Block Club Chicago

Ramirez-Waszkowski had been a pastry chef and managed cafes before starting her own baking company, Bake Me Wild, as an online service during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to expand the business and missing their Chicago roots, Ramirez-Waszkowski and her husband decided to open a physical cafe.

Ramirez-Waszkowski reached out to Counter Culture, which helped the couple find the Ellipsis, which was already up for sale.

The two have slowly remodeled Rivers & Roads over the past year. The walls have traded their red and black for softer green and off-white, tables line the walls with outlets for students and remote workers, and a new sign inspired by national parks greets customers.

Not only is the shop a showcase for Ramirez-Waszkowski’s baking, but the couple’s love for the outdoors was integral in the rebrand. They regularly went on hikes and camping trips while living in California. 

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to lose the oceans and the mountains,’” Waszkowski said.

As they scaled up business, Ramirez-Waszkowski rolled out a Nickelodeon-themed, orange-flavored cookie with a green cream soda filling reminiscent of the children’s network’s signature slime.

Most recently, the shop offered a “diner collection” inspired by breakfast foods. That included a French-toast-flavored cookie and one modeled after a blueberry pancake, complete with maple buttercream filling. 

And those in the mood for a classic cookie can always opt for the cafe’s best-selling chocolate chip.  

The sign with Rivers & Roads’ name is the latest change, kicking off the public rebrand late last month. 

“When we put the new sign up, that was the first time I’d gotten giddy and felt butterflies,” Waszkowski said. 

Janine Ramirez-Waszkowski co-owns Rivers & Roads Cafe in Edgewater. Credit: Alec Karam/Block Club Chicago

That’s just the first phase of changes.

The couple received a $91,125 community development grant last year. They plan to use the money to enlarge the coffee bar during the summer. By fall, customers can expect a new menu including more savory options, such as breakfast burritos and egg sandwiches, Waszkowski said. 

And business is bustling. Ramirez-Waszkowski said the coffee shop is doing “three, four times” the business it was this time last year, while Waszkowski said it’s “bulging at the seams.”

“In the best way,” Ramirez-Waszkowski said. “Everything that we had planned for the last two years is coming to life.”

The couple plans to lean more into their nature theme, making one wall look like the outside of a cabin, while another will feature a built-in bench with a fireplace, Waszkowski-Ramirez said. 

The goal is for the business to be a place of comfort for students and locals. They’ve hosted book readings and after-hours events. On Halloween, the shop hosted a “Hocus Pocus” movie night. And on Thanksgiving, regulars hosted a potluck. 

Waszkowski said he would love to eventually offer an open mic night, too.

“We wanted to be that third space for people,” Waszkowski said. “We want our customers to feel at home here. We want our staff to feel at home here. We want to feel at home here. It’s clear that everybody else also wanted the exact same thing.”

Rivers and Roads is open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.

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