ANDERSONVILLE — For Eli Tea Bar owner Elias Majid, any concerns about whether a tea-centric “sober bar” would work in Chicago were quickly put to rest over its opening weekend.
A drag bingo event held at the Andersonville spot this weekend was sold out, and a pop-up with a Michigan pie company nearly sold out too, Majid said. That comes after a soft opening two weeks prior that saw about 45 customers lined up outside.
“Our soft opening was not soft,” Majid said. “It’s been an insane embrace.”
Eli Tea Bar opened Friday at 5507 N. Clark St. as the second outpost for the Michigan-based cafe. The shop offers 100 loose-leaf teas, plus a full menu of specialty drinks, but Majid hopes the business will be known as much for its drinks as its focus on creating a sober hangout space welcoming to LGBTQ people.
Eli Tea Bar is open until 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. Saturdays. It will stay open until midnight closer to the summer to provide an alcohol-free oasis spot for the queer community, whose late-night social options are heavily booze-centered, Majid said.
“The only late-night option is bars,” Majid said. “We immediately had a rush of sober customers. That’s something many people were interested in, to be in a space that is not going to trigger them.”
Majid founded Eli Tea Bar in 2012, selling his loose-leaf tea blends at farmers markets and pop-ups. Majid opened the flagship cafe in Birmingham, Michigan, in 2014.
Chicago, specifically Andersonville, made sense for the second location because of its strong LGBTQ community and because it is an international hub where Majid could further scale up his business, he said. Majid is also a Loyola University Chicago alumnus, so he is familiar with Andersonville’s small business community.
“It’s about creating something flavorful, about creating the full vision of what a tea cafe can be,” Majid said. “I think we really hit the nail on the head.”
Eli Tea Bar serves matcha, bubble tea and a rotating menu of specialty drinks. A few coffee drinks are available, too, plus non-caffeinated beverages. It sells baked goods from South Loop-based The Spoke & Bird and has plans to add a small food menu that will include grilled cheese, Majid said.
The Clark Street cafe includes a tea bar and retail space selling tea sets, loose-leaf tea blends, brewing equipment and Eli Tea Bar merchandise. Behind the retail space is its seating area, with space for a small stage that will be built this winter.
The colorful seating area will host weekly events, with the full slate of programs likely debuting closer to the summer, Majid said. There are plans for live music, trivia, drag bingo and “Powerpoint night,” where guests give a five-minute presentation on a passion of theirs, with a winner picked by the audience.
“We wanted to make sure we’re not just doing it to hold events,” Majid said. “I don’t want it to just be a flat open mic night.”
If Majid gets his way, Eli Tea Bar will have a presence in Chicago beyond its Andersonville storefront. The business also does wholesale, and he hopes to get his brand of tea blends in other cafes and restaurants.
To do that, the company has launched a fundraising campaign on the platform Mainvest, seeking $100,000 in funding. Mainvest allows investors to contribute as little as $100 and offers return on investment that keeps money out of Wall Street and in neighborhoods.
So far, $53,000 has been raised by 41 investors. The campaign ends Dec. 31. For more information, click here.
Majid said he sought business loans for his expansion but could not find a favorable deal. With the store’s build-out complete, the new funds would expand his inventory and kickstart his wholesale efforts in Chicago.
“I want our community members to be engaged in the business,” he said. “They’re our spokespeople.”
Eli Tea Bar is open noon-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays.
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