Dwan "Dee" Martin poses with her dogs, Luxe and Fancy, on the front room couch at Urban Luxe Café, 2911 E. 79th St. in South Shore. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH SHORE — A new café and neighborhood gathering spot with plans to give back to the community through giveaways and scholarships is set to open on 79th Street in the coming weeks.

Urban Luxe Café, 2911 E. 79th St. in South Shore, will feature coffee and “heavy bites” like breaded oysters, egg rolls and personal pizzas that start at $10.99. Sandwiches also start at $10.99 and include the “grown folk PB&J” and a plant-based chicken patty.

There will also be about 20 coffee drinks available starting at $2.99, as well as a lineup of premium ice cream flavors chosen by supporters through a social media “battle” and freshly made seasoned popcorn, said cafe owner Dwan “Dee” Martin. For a full menu, click here.

The café can help “create something good and new — something a little bit different” on the Nine, said Martin, a Woodlawn resident.

The lounge area at Urban Luxe Café, which features portraits of famed Chicagoans like Bernie Mac, Common, Chance the Rapper and Donny Hathaway. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Urban Luxe Café features a stage in the main dining area for open mics, performances and other events for local artists to show off their skills.

There’s also a community space in the back for “curated café” events, where an exhibit with displays, demonstrations and discussions on the rich history of Black tea culture will be among the initial draws, Martin said.

Gallery exhibitions, neighborhood meetings and intimate performances could also take place in the curated café area. The space is already booked every week from the shop’s opening through December, Martin said.

Dwan “Dee” Martin poses next to the Urban Luxe Café sign in the shop’s lounge. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Martin, who also runs the Urban Luxe Salon at 6848 S. Ashland Ave. in Englewood, plans to recreate the salon’s community initiatives in South Shore.

“With my salons, I have what’s called the Urban Luxe Cares Initiative,” Martin said. “Quarterly, we usually do something for the community over there in Englewood [with giveaways and music and] I’ll be bringing those same practices over here.”

Unique to the café will be an annual scholarship fund, awarded to two high school seniors each year who are pursuing a business major at a four-year university. Recipients must show they’ve “gone above and beyond” in serving their community, Martin said.

The café is still navigating the city’s licensing process, but hopes to have all approvals in hand and open by Sept. 1, Martin said. A private ribbon cutting takes place next month, and a public grand opening will be held once she gets a license to open, she said.

The café will neighbor the Thrive Exchange development, a $100 million Invest South/West project that’s set to bring 76 apartments and 24 condos to 79th Street and Exchange Avenue.

The exterior of Urban Luxe Café, 2911 E. 79th St. in South Shore. Credit: Dwan "Dee" Martin

Martin “knew nothing” about the development when she bought the property in 2020, but is excited for the “influx of new neighbors” it’s likely to draw to the quiet stretch of 79th Street.

She also wants to continue connecting with existing businesses and residents, like she has with Dionis Harvey at Chicago BodyShop down the street at 2049 E. 79th St.

“I’m not necessarily trying to completely change South Shore, but I want to bring something else to the neighborhood,” Martin said.

Urban Luxe Café received a $154,200 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant from the city in 2021. With construction complete aside from air-conditioning installation, Martin is on the “tail end” of the grant process, as she’s received all but a third and final reimbursement, she said.

The building previously hosted the Black Angels Motorcycle Club and is featured in the film “Barbershop,” which filmed at numerous locations near 79th and Exchange.

A city inspector assigned Martin, who had never seen “Barbershop” before, to watch it as “homework” before opening the café, she said. She will consider naming a sandwich after the movie or finding some other small way to honor it, she said.

The property includes vacant apartments on the upper floors. There’s no timeline for renovating the apartments, as opening the café is Martin’s priority, she said.

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