When Phil Sipka and some of his Englewood neighbors opened a cafe a year ago this week, skeptics had suggestions.And more about Mr. Sipka:
How about rolling security gates over the wall-size windows? Or a permanently locked door, with a buzzer to buzz customers in? Maybe a nighttime security guard.
Sipka and his neighbors had a different idea.
"Let's be vulnerable," he said Thursday, sitting at one of the tables he made from reclaimed wood. "I think people respect intentional vulnerability."
The cafe is named Kusanya, a Swahili word that means "to gather," and though it's in a neighborhood that makes news most often when someone makes trouble, it has managed to stay safe since it opened last Nov. 19.
Sipka, 34, is a man of several talents. A native of Alma, Mich., he studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. He honed his coffee skills at the popular Robust Coffee Lounge in Woodlawn. "The Steve Harvey Show" featured him (video available on YouTube) quitting that job in song, backed by a doo-wop group.You know, I wonder what brought him to Englewood. Why Englewood for him instead of other parts of the city?
When he moved to Chicago seven years ago, he immediately settled in Englewood, just a block from the cafe. He is white in a neighborhood that is predominantly black.
"A lot of people thought I was a cop for a long time," he said. He laughed. "I'd be the worst undercover cop ever."
He built Kusanya's coffee counter and wooden tables himself. He studied YouTube videos to learn how to hang a door.
"I've always liked making things beautiful out of things people throw away," he said.
Either way he had a vision and gained the support of the neighborhood. He had some help from the community getting this place ready for business.
I'm going to put this on the list of places I should visit on the south side.