Photo Credit: Afro Joe's
Chicago's Afro Joe's Is More Than Just A Black-Owned Coffee Shop
Next time you’re in the Windy City, be sure to stop by Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea. Owned by husband and wife Kendall (44) and Aisha Griffin (36), the shop serves as a community hub and oasis where customers can enjoy fresh, made-to-order food and drinks.
Natives of Chicago and Detroit, respectively, the couple has been married for three years, and has three children, ages 16, 13, and one. They were inspired to open Afro Joe’s by their love of coffee and coffee shops.
“I have always loved the community that coffee shops nurtured,” said Kendall. “We wanted to elevate the customer experience by creating a modern coffee shop focused around staying true to community and culture. My wife and I love to host, so the coffee shop is an extension of our home life. My wife was a huge inspiration in helping me manifest my dream into reality by helping me hone the vision and creating our food program that has become wildly popular.”
Afro Joe’s food menu was inspired by the couple’s travels around the world and Aisha’s love for cooking. The names of the menu items are an ode to the predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city of Chicago.
The shop opened October 5, 2020, in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Already in the midst of building out when the pandemic hit, Kendall and Aisha decided to push through and finish building. A month later, on October 30, the city stopped indoor dining completely.
“We were not able to have a grand opening due to the pandemic, and we had to quickly pivot again with indoor dining closing. We relied heavily on online ordering, delivery apps, and word of mouth to get us through our first year.”
With things largely returning to normal, Afro Joe’s has been able to fulfil its goal of becoming a community hub, and now hosts a plethora of events, including the First Fridays open mic night featuring local rappers, poets and singers, and Saturday Soul Sessions, which features local musicians representing many genres.
Afro Joe’s also hosts quarterly speed dating, as well as children’s events centered around holidays, such as book and toy giveaways, painting classes, and other fun activities. They recently had photos with Santa and a hot chocolate and s’mores bar where kids could make the ultimate hot chocolate.
“We also feature a new artist monthly to adorn our walls and a Wine Down, which is for our artist in residence. Every month we hang a new local visual artist’s (painter/photographer, etc.) work on our walls, and it’s all for sale. The Wine Down is an extension of the art hanging on our walls when we turn the coffee shop into an art gallery opening every month. The artist gets to have an intimate talk with would-be buyers to explain the pieces and the inspiration behind each one.”
When it comes to the menu, the top-selling item is the Southside Short Rib Grilled Cheese. Made with short rib that is braised for 24 hours, it sells out daily. The shop’s best-selling coffee drink is their Caramel Macchiato, and their best-selling non-caffeinated drink is the Victoria, a strawberry and lavender infused lemonade named after one of their regular customers.
But Afro Joe’s offers its patrons much more than just delicious food and drinks.
Ever in search of ways to uplift and give back to the local community, the brand is involved in many community initiatives. The one nearest and dearest to their hearts, however, is the work they do around maternal health.
“We work with a local collective of Black doulas called Chicago Birthworks Doulas to host a breastfeeding support and informational group, Tea & Boobs, consisting of not only doulas but lactation consultants, as well. We have also hosted a birth course for soon-to-be parents, so that the parents to be can see what will likely happen during birth, and a doula and birth worker event where soon-to-be parents can meet a host of these birth workers to get information and/or hire them to assist in their births.”
Other events include a car seat installation course with local firefighters to make sure new babies are riding safely, and a fathers support group called Dads & Beer where dads can meet and connect with other fathers. Afro Joe’s has also partnered with community groups in their neighborhood to do community clean-ups, an HIV drive, as well as a monthly hot food giveaway to those in need.
“All of our events for our parents are there to provide information and to let parents know that they have options and that their birthing journey is theirs to cultivate however they see fit,” said Aisha. “As a first-time mom, I learned a lot and I always had to leave my neighborhood to get this information, often times shared by people who did not look like me. I realized this information was something a lot of mothers of color didn’t have, not due to anything other than lack of resources, so we decided this would be one of our charters.”
Afro Joe’s is constantly creating new community events, and adding new food and drink items to its menu, with the specials board always changing.
“I am inspired by my travels,” said Aisha, “so when I go somewhere and have something, I usually try to recreate it with my own spin. The drinks are inspired by our oldest daughter, and whatever new syrup or idea she comes up with, we love offering it to our customers. All of our new items end up on the specials board, so the specials board is where it’s at.”
Afro Joe’s is located at 8344 S. Halsted Street, and is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m to 3 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit www.afrojoes.com and follow @afrojoes.