Backlot blends coffee and kindness at its new Sherman Avenue location


Zoe Malin/Daily Senior Staffer

Backlot Coffee’s opened a new location on Sherman Avenue on Monday, Oct. 21. This is the shop’s third retail location.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Almost overnight, Other Brother Coffee Bar closed up shop at 1549 Sherman Ave. and handed the keys over to Backlot Coffee. Backlot moved in on a Friday, making minor adjustments like changing the logo on the door and hanging its menu on the wall behind the counter. Backlot opened for business just two days later on Oct. 21, serving customers its signature drinks, like an oatmeal cookie latte.

“The new location is a great place for people to meet up quickly, drink great coffee and move on with their day,” said John Kim, co-founder of Backlot Coffee. “It’s a place you can come and get away from things to get 20-minutes of peace or solitude.”

Backlot Coffee was founded by Kim and his partner Isaac Bloom in 2016. The two opened their first Backlot location on Central Street in Evanston, their second in Old Irving Park in 2017, and a roastery in 2018. That same year, the shop on Central Street underwent renovations when Backlot bought the storefront next door. Kim said Backlot “busted through the wall,” built a kitchen and added more seating. Now, in 2019, the addition of Backlot’s new spot in Downtown Evanston marks its third retail location.

Kim, who opened his first coffee shop in Evanston with his brother over a decade ago — The Brothers K Coffeehouse — said the rapid growth has been a “pleasant surprise.”

“In 2005, I was 30 years old and just starting something, wondering if it was going to work,” said Kim. “Fifteen years later, I’m still here feeling so good about what we’re doing in Evanston.”

In addition to The Brothers K, Kim owned several other coffee shops in Evanston before founding Backlot, one of which was Other Brother Coffee. Kim purchased the storefront on the corner of Sherman Avenue and Grove Street in 2011, operating it until 2015, when he sold it to his friend, Tim Tanner. During the years that followed, Kim said Tanner ran Other Brother with a dedicated team of baristas and formed long-lasting relationships with regulars. However, a few weeks ago, Tanner came to Kim, ready to step away from coffee. Kim offered to buy Other Brother back from Tanner, making it a Backlot Coffee location.

Tanner’s last day at Other Brother was Oct. 18. That weekend, the space was painted and Backlot’s beans were brought in. Backlot’s new location on Sherman Avenue opened for business a few days later. While “Other Brother Coffee” is no longer written on the shop’s window, Kim said aspects that made it “so loveable” remain. One of those aspects is the shop’s baristas, who are still behind the counter, steaming milk and pouring lattes.

Backlot’s new location is co-managed by Daniel Krause and Claude Nshimiye, both of whom previously worked as baristas at Backlot’s Central Street location. Nshimiye has been with Backlot for about three years. He said the most special thing about the shop is its commitment to caring about customers.

“We treat customers like humans first: always with respect,” said Nshimiye.

Because Backlot owns its own roastery, its coffee is sourced from importers and farms it partners with in places like Colombia. Teas and specialty beverages are also available, like a chai latte, cardamom rose latte and lavender matcha latte. Due to the addition of a kitchen at the Central Street location, Backlot makes a few of its own food items, like a burrito and muesli. It also partners with local establishments like Hewn Bread, Do-Rite Donuts, Amanecer Taco Shop and Frío Gelato, providing customers with traditional pasties and hearty lunchtime eats.

Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she’s glad to be “adding Backlot to the mix” in Downtown Evanston. It’s one of many new coffee shops that recently opened in the city, but differs from others due to its limited seating at a high-top counter along the windows. Coakley said this adds so the “cool concept and vibe” Backlot brings.

“That corner has been a coffee shop for a very long time,” Coakley said. “It has history, and it’s an interesting, bright, airy space where you can grab-and-go instead of plug in all day.”

While Backlot’s new space has the same aesthetic as its other locations, Kim said each is unique. He believes the neighborhood defines “what kind of shop it’s going to be,” as does Backlot’s commitment to “surprising people with kindness.”

“When you walk into Backlot, we want you to feel as if you’ve been seen,” said Kim. “If we’re doing that, we’re doing what we should be.”

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