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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Southside Grinds Is Serving Up Coffee, Tea And More In ‘Under-Caffeinated’ Bronzeville

Boxville's newest tenant is sharing her love of coffee while building community and trying to hire local.

Southside Grinders owner Ebony Blue makes a drink for a customer at her new Boxville shop Wednesday.
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WASHINGTON PARK — Ebony Blue is just wrapping up her first week of selling coffee at her new cafe in Bronzeville’s Boxville — and she can’t wait to share her love with more “under-caffeinated and underserved” locals.

Credit: Southside Grinds
Ebony Blue founded Southside Grinds, which has a walk-up window in Boxville as well as a mobile espresso cart.

Blue opened the cafe, Southside Grinds, at Boxville, 300 E. 41st St., a marketplace where vendors sell their wares from shipping containers. Blue wanted to share her love of coffee beans and create a place that made people feel like they belong.

So far, Southside Grinds’ drinks have been a hit. Blue offers specialty coffee drinks, teas and ‘ades. One example: The Green Line, honoring the nearby CTA line, is an ombre lemonade with blueberry pea tea. It costs $4, the same as the rest of Blue’s beverages.

But the road to opening Southside Grinds wasn’t an easy one for the New York City native.

Blue had dreamed of opening a restaurant, but those plans fell through. She pivoted back to her first true love: coffee, which she started sipping when she was only 2. But she ran into difficulty finding funding for her cafe plans.

“The loans weren’t there, and nobody wanted to lend to a startup,” Blue said. “I spoke with eight institutions, and they all said no. I’m thinking, ‘What do I do now?'”

Ebony Blue stands inside her Southside Grinds coffee stand at Boxville Wednesday afternoon.

After a pep talk with a friend, Blue decided to build a mobile coffee bar. More opportunities — from serving drinks at YWCA events to landing a spot at The Hatchery, a food business incubator — brought more business.

Blue also landed a PepsiCo fellowship and a spot at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, positions where she’s provided with educational and mentoring opportunities so she can grow her business.

Finally, last week, she opened her container cafe in Boxville.

Blue wants the space to be comfortable for everyone, with a vibe similar to the one she found at Bronzeville’s Sip and Savor, where owner Trez Pugh and his family gave her the sense of community she sorely needed.

Ultimately, Blue wants to open a larger shop that would allow for onsite roasting. Becoming a Boxville tenant will help her figure out what works and what doesn’t so she’ll be ready when the opportunity for a brick-and-mortar spot.

In the meantime, Blue hopes to find staff who can work the cart on a part-time basis for $15 an hour.

“I want to hire within the community. I’m committed to that,” Blue said.

People interested in applying can do so on the Southside Grinds website.

Southside Grinds has a mobile espresso bar for events, as well as its walk-up window in Boxville. People can book the mobile cart online.

The cafe’s coffee blend and merchandise are also available online.

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