Caffeine and Community
Coffee Lab builds community for Northwestern students and Evanston residents
April 28, 2021
I knew that Coffee Lab & Roasters was a joyful place the first time I walked in on a gloomy Saturday morning, ordered a large cappuccino and was greeted with a smile and four shots of espresso in a 12oz cup. And while it’s the perfect place to go if you like your coffee strong and delicious, accompanied by delicious pastries and snacks, the shop on 910 Noyes St. is more than just a place for a caffeine fix.
Coffee Lab was founded in 2010 as an offshoot of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, but has since changed hands a few times and separated itself from the divinity school. In May 2019, couple Jay Kim and Daniel Aquino became Coffee Lab’s new owners. Aquino had worked there for a while under the previous ownership, and Kim is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern.
One of Kim and Aquino’s biggest goals is to create a space both Evanston residents and NU students can enjoy and call their own. Sometimes Coffee Lab can feel like an extension of campus, Kim said, as students studied at the coffee shop before the pandemic and even take on barista positions behind the counter.
Kaley Winegarner (Communication ‘19, SPS ‘20) has worked at Coffee Lab for nearly two years. When Winegarner would come in to do school work, she said she noticed the staff always seemed to be having fun together. Now, a full-time employee, she finds the camaraderie to live up to her expectations.
“All of the people on the staff are very like-minded and have the same kind of sense of humor, so it’s very easy to get along and be comfortable enough to joke around with the staff members,” Winegarner said. “It’s a very playful environment, but we also get our work done. It’s a good balance.”
The community-building extends to their customers. Over Winter Break, Kim and Aquino kept Coffee Lab open for the students who stayed back in Evanston due to the pandemic. And to bring new customers into the store and reach out to the broader Asian communities on campus and in the city, Aquino also started making the ube latte, now a signature item, as well as other Filipino, Korean and Japanese-inspired treats.
Kim and Aquino want to create a space where everyone is comfortable and accepted.
“As members of the LGBT community ourselves, we feel like this is such an important thing to have for members of our community, where they can know that this is just a safe place to be and this is their place,” Kim said. “We just want to be a place for anyone to feel welcome.”
During the pandemic, Kim and Aquino have found new ways to bring joy to people’s lives. They turned the store into a community art gallery, displaying local artists’ work on the walls and in the windows.
Right now, the store is selling stickers, buttons, and more, with proceeds going to charities supporting Asian American and Pacific Islander mental health and safety due to the rise of hate crimes. While this is Coffee Lab’s first public fundraiser, Kim said he’s looking forward to supporting similar initiatives in the future.
Even though the store is no longer packed with people working or talking with their friends, it’s still a staple in people’s lives. Weinberg junior Julia Yoon started going there to visit friends who were employees. A year later, she’s still visiting to get the “best cold brew in Evanston,” as well as the specialty Asian pastries sold on Sundays.
“I like that it’s a small business and it’s Asian-owned,” Yoon said. “I really like their cold brew, and I will stand by it because it is not too acidic and it is just so perfect.”
There’s something for everyone in the sun-filled coffee shop on Noyes. There are even drinks to suit any palette, from standard espresso drinks, a rotation of flavored lattes (The cinnamon roll hot latte is a personal favorite), various lemonades and other delicious drinks. No matter what you’re looking for at Coffee Lab, you’ll find plenty of caffeine and community.
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