One of Hyde Park - Kenwood - Woodlawn's newest cool things is in the lower left-hand corner of the above building: Robust Coffee Lounge. We've been flagrantly remiss in not heralding its arrival much, much sooner. Chicago Weekly has a very nice write-up of Robust here. Neighbor blogger Woodlawn Wonder gives her personal take on it here.
So, after several friendly proddings from readers, we finally made it down to their corner location on 63rd and Woodlawn -- where, as a rosy-cheeked youth I walked in days of yore, neath the dappled sunlight of a cacophonous elevated rail spur, in search of Harold's Chicken -- to find that we weren't the only ones retracing our footsteps.
For the most interesting thing about Robust Coffee Lounge-- where, despite the name, it is hoped they do not brew robusta coffee beans -- is actually the owner Jake Sapstein's backstory. In opening up Robust, Sapstein is retracing footsteps of his own. Talk to him for a little bit and you'll quickly realize that he knows the South Side. The reason is that his family owned a chain of pharmacies throughout the area, back in the day when Walgreens was not the only game in town.
It's clear that running a small business, and entrepreneurial spirit, are in his blood; so is running a store on the South Side of Chicago.
I mention all of this because I couldn't help but wonder, approaching the building in this photograph from the north, surrounded as it is by enormous tracts of empty land, who would have the guts to open up here. Not just because it's kind of scary at night (ask Jake, he'll tell you), but because commercially it's deserted, and business loves company. The whole story has a sort of poetry: the old threads of social fabric, torn for over half a century, have been stitched together again on one particular street corner. With any luck, so we are told, Sapstein and his business partner may open up a restaurant next door.
And the coffee? Well, if you've gotten used to Z&H, you may be a little let down. Then again, Sapstein's aim is not to be a solo foodie boutique, but to grow and make money -- full-disclosure to Old-Guard Hyde Park anti-capitalists. But the baked goods are all locally sourced, and everything on the deli menu -- which is substantial, and includes staples that you can't get in Hyde Park anymore, like chicken salad -- is made in-house. "We want to be a curator for local vendors," Jake told me.
Seems to be working so far. Go check it out, if you haven't already.