Garrett-funded cafe promotes social good

Grace Johnson

At Coffee Lab, a new cafe a few blocks away from North Campus, a Bunsen burner-like device filters coffee into a waiting beaker. The science experiment similarities end there.

“You’ll never see us wearing lab coats here,” manager Scott Simmonssaid. “We’re focused on being hospitable and setting a stage for a community here.”

Coffee Lab, 922 Noyes St., is engaged in a different type of experiment: social enterprise. The nonprofit cafe, which opened early December of last year, is working to do general social good in the Chicago area, Simmons said.

“We are making an effort to be socially conscious and decrease our footprint in any way we can,” he said. “We want to use our coffee house to promote good things.”

Coffee Lab uses biodegradable cups from Eco-Products and pastries from Sweet Miss Giving’s, a not-for-profit Chicago bakery. In addition, Coffee Lab uses coffee products from Intelligentsia, a direct trade vendor, Simmons said.

Simmons and his employees have been influenced by the coffee-making philosophy of Intelligentsia, which is quite different from other corporate cafes.

“There’s no such thing as a 20-ounce cappuccino, but that’s what people are used to drinking,” he said. “We tell people that what they are going to get from us is going to be smaller than what they’re used to paying for, and it’s going to be the same price but it’s going to be really good.”

The cafe is located at the space previously occupied by coffee and gelato shop Linz and Vail, which moved to 2012 Central St.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is funding Coffee Lab by providing the space and even the employees. Nearly all of the employees at the coffee house are seminary students.

“I heard about it through people at school,” said Melanie Nord, an employee and seminary student. “I’ve worked in coffee shops for the past six years so it worked out really well.”

While the Seminary is helping to fund Coffee Lab, Simmons, a 2008 Garrett-Evangelical grad, said he doesn’t want Coffee Lab to carry the title of a Christian coffee shop.

“I avoid using that label,” he said. “When you use the label there would be a whole group of people who wouldn’t want to come in and get a cup of coffee and hear, ‘Hi, have you heard of Jesus?'”

Coffee Lab is making steady progress since its opening, reaching its first 100-sale day last week, Simmons said. Some customers said Coffee Lab has tapped into an area of Evanston where there aren’t many other coffee houses.

“I was on my way to a meeting and I wanted coffee,” said first-time customer Rachel Aukeman, a city of Evanston intern. “It’s right off the El stop which is nice, and I like to support independent coffee shops.”

[email protected]