On an almost-fall afternoon I walked into a coffee shop with exposed brick walls, mosaic tiled floors, and photography from local artists hung in the seating area. The smell of roasted coffee, the soul music pumping softly through the speakers, and the sight of people working on laptops were all familiar to me, but I was not in Logan Square or Pilsen or any neighborhood I frequent. I was in Englewood on 69th and Halsted.
Kusanya Cafe is a coffee shop and community space that opened in November of last year to bring more than just quality coffee to the neighborhood: it aimed to provide an attractive space for residents to get together to work and socialize. The cafe is the perfect example of the recent push by many Englewood residents to prove to the rest of the city that their neighborhood has more to offer than the negative reputation it often receives in the media. The name ‘Kusanya’ comes from a Swahili word meaning “to gather,” but has connotations that go beyond that definition to emphasize the power of a community that comes together to build something stronger than the individual.
825 W. 69th St. (Englewood)
Hours: 7am-7pm, M-Sat
As mentioned in the intro, Kusanya has the same vibe as any hipster cafe you might find in a hole-in-the-wall space in Ukrainian Village. It’s got the brick, the reclaimed wood, the handmade signs, and the people on laptops. What makes Kusanya different, though, is the lack of pretension and the enthusiasm of the entire surrounding neighborhood. The residents have a lot of pride in their local businesses and want them to thrive, so they make a point of stopping in. Everyone from teachers to local entrepreneurs to groups of school children can call Kusanya Cafe “their” space.
Very accessible aka you won’t see any $8 cups of coffee here. My latte and sandwich together were $8.00. A cup of coffee to in a for-here mug is only $1.00.
On my visit I needed to be both caffeinated and fed so I ordered a perfectly creamy soy latte that tasted much like a freshly toasted marshmallow, and a hot, crispy panini with gooey mozzarella cheese, sliced tomato, and fresh basil. The sandwich was aptly and cheekily named the Mozz Def, and depending on your mood and your dietary restrictions when you visit Kusanya, you can get the Ham Master Jay, the Lupe Tobasco, the Tuna Turner, and more. Both breakfast and lunch items are on the menu. Also available is a sandwich and soup (or salad) combo called the Souppa Fly. Beverages include standard hot or iced espresso drinks (soy and almond milk options are available aka happy vegans) as well as smoothies, frozen drinks, hot chocolate, and tea.
The Bamboo Factor
Community is an essential part of Kusanya Café’s vision, and you can see it take shape in a multitude of ways, from the local art mounted on the walls to the doors, which were donated from the Woodlawn Abundance Project. Even the benches are actually reclaimed church pews from Canaan Community Church in West Englewood. The coffee comes from Bridgeport Coffee Company, and the pastries are made at a nearby bakery. In an additional effort to draw in the community, Kusanya is offering half-off all drinks for teachers and students this week. They even implemented a pay-it-forward system where you can add $2.00 to your bill and pay for the next person’s drink.
I don’t know if I’ve given any establishment five throwing stars, but Kusanya takes them all, no hesitation. The ambiance is right, the coffee and food are delicious, and sustainability practices are in place.
Well done, Kusanya. Can’t wait to come back for that Lupe Tabasco.