SOUTH SHORE — Colette Tasker Steele and her husband, Dion Steele, want to breathe new energy into their neighborhood by turning their newly opened coffee shop, Heritage Cafe, into a community hub.
Throughout her childhood, she would walk along 79th Street to get groceries. But when she moved back to the neighborhood years later, nearly all of the South Shore businesses she once knew were closed.
Now, after almost 20 years in the advertising industry, she and her husband want to shift that trend. Her father once owned a business on 79th Street, so, entrepreneurship is in her DNA.
“My objective has always been to return to the neighborhood, always,” Tasker Steele said. “If I were to open up a business I couldn’t see doing it any place else. It just goes without saying home ownership, business ownership, there’s no reason we should have to travel outside of 60649 for stuff.”
In addition to drip coffee ($1.49 for a 12-ounce cup), cafe faux laits — or coffee with non-dairy milk ($2.79 for a 12-ounce cup), and tea, Heritage Cafe also serves up vegan wraps ($5.49) and salads ($4.79).
The cafe also sells vegan-friendly and gluten-free baked goods by partnering with three different bakers who make treats to complement the cafe’s homemade offerings.
The Chicago natives originally had the idea to open up their own business on the South Side years ago.
“We wanted to open up our own business and do what we enjoy doing, and so our idea was to open up a night spot and gallery initially where we could showcase art and things of that nature,” said Steele, who was the former principal at Urban Prep’s Englewood campus for the last three years. “Then we had kids, three girls, then we had responsibilities and things of that nature and so they took precedence over some of those goals.”
After finding the space in 2016 and committing to self-funding the cafe, the Steeles said they worked nights, weekends and holidays over two years to bring Heritage Cafe to life.
Since opening, the couple hasn’t stopped looking for ways to optimize their space — which could include opening the cafe’s basement or back patio to add more room for community members to showcase their talents and build their businesses.
“A lot of people in the community are reaching out for space,” Steele said. “They want to have places where they can meet and conduct business meetings and have showcases. We could have film in the basement and show documentaries and showcase other things.”
The Steeles want to host DJ nights and live music performances at the cafe, too.
“One of the things that we focus on is providing cultural entertainment,” Steele said. “There’s a lot of good artists that don’t get the opportunity to perform for free and so we provide a space for that to happen as well.”
Throughout the establishment, posters of famous Blaxploitation films like “Black Samson” hang on the walls, music from the last four decades is playing and more black cultural references are in plain view.
“This is a historic community and she grew up in this community and there’s an identity in that from her children, her greatness, when things were a lot better,” Steele said.
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