Unicorn Cafe welcomes new coffee distributor, emphasizes local partnerships


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Unicorn Cafe, 1723 Sherman Ave. The Evanston-based coffee shop switched coffee distributors to Sparrow Coffee.

Sophia Scanlan, Reporter

Unicorn Cafe has brought a host of changes to start the new year, including partnerships with local businesses like Sparrow Coffee.

Located at 1723 Sherman Ave. the coffee shop has new artwork, a credit card machine, Patisserie Coralie pastries and Sparrow Coffee. These changes come after Colectivo Coffee — Unicorn’s former distributor — opened a shop in Evanston at 716 Church St.

Last summer, owner Jessica Donnelly spoke with Jimmy McFarland, the director of operations at Sparrow Coffee — a Chicago-based roastery — to learn about the product. Donnelly said some of her friends and family had enjoyed Sparrow, so she reached out to the company to see about the possibility of selling it at Unicorn instead of continuing with Colectivo.

Though Sparrow distributes primarily to Michelin restaurants rather than cafes, the company made an exception for Unicorn, McFarland said.

“It’s a very high-quality coffee,” McFarland said. “We probably turn down 70 percent of the people that come to us, but Jessica had a passion for this very old cafe that she wanted to keep and not have Evanston lose. That meant a lot to us.”

Once Donnelly and McFarland determined that Unicorn and Sparrow would be a good fit for each other, representatives from Sparrow came to the cafe to educate staff members about the product.

Donnelly said she not only enjoyed the training, but she also learned a lot.

“I lived on a coffee farm in Tanzania for two years, so I thought I knew coffee,” she said. “I didn’t know anything until Sparrow came in and really talked to us about how coffee degrades and why the flavor profiles change.”

Because Unicorn already shut down for the training, Donnelly and her staff decided to make more renovations to the cafe, painting the walls, hanging new artwork and rewriting the menu.

Evanston’s Patisserie Coralie will also distribute pastries at Unicorn, Donnelly said. After Patisserie Coralie supported Unicorn when Colectivo moved to Evanston, Donnelly said she kept the bakery in mind when she wanted to expand the menu.

In the coming week, Unicorn will also accept credit cards.

Cassie Majewski, who graduated from Medill last month and works as a barista at Unicorn, said she enjoyed being part of the store’s rebranding.

“We kept a lot of our charm and character and core as Unicorn and then just amplified it a little, which has been going over really well, so it’s exciting,” she said.

Debra Christensen, one of Unicorn’s regulars who works across the street at Inner Advantage Massage, said she liked all the changes.

She said the atmosphere is more relaxed, and she complimented Donnelly on her ability to remember and connect with so many of her customers.

“And I love the new coffee,” she said. “I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but I Iove Sparrow.”

Donnelly said she was pleased with the city’s response, and she hopes customers continue to enjoy the atmosphere and the new coffee in the store.

She also appreciated Sparrow’s willingness to support a local business like Unicorn.

“I want Evanstonians and people coming through Evanston to have great coffee, and now we have that,” she said. “It’s nice not to just keep going in the same linear path and to go in a new direction with something exceptional.”

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