LITTLE ITALY — Ask Coffee Alley co-owner Bill Roberts about how his new Taylor Street shop got on its feet, and he’ll repeat that one person was crucial to the place’s success.
His wife, Sara.
“I wouldn’t do this without her. No way,” he said.
“He’s the talker,” Sara Roberts said laughing. “We are a very good team.”
The Coffee Alley, which opened in December at 1152 W. Taylor St., was a labor of love for the couple.
The two met about four years ago. Bill Roberts ran a packaging company, but had always wanted to open a local coffee shop. Sara Roberts, who is Venezuelan, had a background in restaurant management. After losing her job at El Pollo Loco in 2011, the two started looking for a commercial space for their coffee shop.
And after seeing the for sale sign on the space, the couple said they just knew.
“It’s like it was waiting for us,” Sara Roberts said.
While Coffee Alley serves up specials like double caramel lattes and coconut white hot chocolate during the day, on Saturday nights the gas lamps dim and the shop morphs into a jazz club.
“We wanted to make it look like back in the 1920s or 30s. Almost like a speakeasy,” Bill Roberts said.
The jazz nights are BYOB, with a $5 corkage fee that goes straight to the band.
Josh Miller, who plays regularly at Coffee Alley, is the shop’s go-to man for jazz bands.
“He’s like our Don King. He gets all these bands and people coming in here,” Bill Roberts said.
The shop picks up the local flavor through its house made paninis, with names like Hull House (ham and cheese) and Taylor Street (turkey, artichoke and roasted red pepper). If your appetite is hardy, Coffee Alley also features pot pies from Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport.
Blair Smart, a second year medical student at Rush University, said he sees a lot of his classmates at the Coffee Alley.
Smart, who comes in at least five times a week, said he used to travel to Wicker Park in order to get his independent coffee-joint fix. Now, he said, due to the free Wi-Fi and good eats, he can’t go more than a day or so without hitting the place up.
“My favorite is the Hull House. It’s good stuff,” he said of the Coffee Alley panini.
“We have regulars that come in every single day, twice a day,” Bill Roberts said.
And, according to Sara Roberts, those regulars get treated just like family.
“We just tell them, you know, ‘we are your home away from home,’ ” she said.