Photo courtesy of Jacqui White and Tosha Wilson
While many might view laundry as a mundane chore, two Evanston natives envision a space in which locals could leave the laundromat with both clean clothes and stronger ties to their community.
Tosha Wilson and Jacqui White, co-owners of The Laundry Cafe, hope to open their “Starbucks of laundromats” in the 2nd Ward in early 2023. In addition to full laundry service, the reimagined laundromat will feature comfortable seating, fresh-brewed coffee, a book room and a yoga and meditation space.
The Laundry Cafe will be a tenant at The AUX, a new small business hub in the 2nd Ward that aims to uplift Black entrepreneurs.
Wilson said she was inspired by learning about European laundromats, which have a community-centered feel that she felt Evanston was lacking. Shortly after, she reached out to White to collaborate on the project.
The cousins said family has played a strong role in their journey so far; they have a shared goal of leaving behind a meaningful legacy for future generations. Wilson said she draws inspiration from the drive and accomplishments of her relatives, such as former Police Chief Bill Logan and Hecky’s Barbecue founder Hecky Powell.
At a critical moment in their journey, Wilson and White connected with Juli Kaufmann, president of Fix Development, the commercial real estate company that would help develop The Laundry Cafe. Kaufmann said Fix prioritizes a “quadruple bottom line” philosophy, focusing on four pillars of impact with all its projects: environmental, economic, social and cultural.
Kaufmann said her and White’s partnership developed naturally when the two ran into each other at a local restaurant. At the time, Kaufmann was in the early stages of consulting for The AUX.
Kaufmann said that Wilson and White’s “expertise and community credibility” have been critical in The AUX’s development. Wilson and White joined The AUX as co-developers and solidified The Laundry Cafe as one of the space’s tenants. Wilson said the name was a natural fit for the idea, with “AUX” being short for auxiliary cord, because “we want our community to plug back in and be connected to one another.”
White pointed to the challenge of fundraising for the project and said that The Laundry Cafe is still about $5 million short of its $6 million goal. She hopes The Laundry Cafe and The AUX will be important steps in strengthening Evanston’s Black community.
Kaufmann echoed Wilson and White’s comments about the advancement of racial equity in Evanston. According to Kaufmann, promoting racial equity and inclusion is one way that Fix “seeks to build a social fabric that is good for all” through its social impact pillar.
Kaufmann said Evanston could be doing more to close equity gaps.
“I do feel like there’s a serious gap in Evanston between what is said around commitment to racial equity and what is done around racial equity,” said Kaufmann.
In addition to contributing financially, the team hopes the Northwestern and Evanston communities will support The Laundry Cafe once it opens. Community members can also spread the word about The Laundry Cafe and visit the space, whether to attend a yoga class or to study, White said. Another way locals can support The AUX as a whole, Kaufmann added, is by considering the opportunity to become owners for the space.
“To see NU being influenced on the other side of Ridge (Avenue) would be powerful,” Wilson said. “And so why not bring purple to the other side of Ridge? Why not bring purple to The AUX? And you know, put your flag up.”
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— The AUX seeks to foster community with Black-owned businesses at the forefront
— After Hecky Powell died last May, his family continues the legacy of Hecky’s Barbecue
— Shopping Local: An Evanston Small Business Starter Pack