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Damen Avenue Coffee Shop Doubles in Size, Adds Lots of Natural Light

By Alisa Hauser | April 30, 2013 12:10pm

BUCKTOWN — The owners of a small coffee shop who couldn't bear to watch potential customers walk out after seeing there was "no place to sit" have big news: an expansion.

Buzz Killer Espresso at 1644 N. Damen Ave. in Bucktown is in the midst of wrapping up a renovation that adds an upper-level with more than twice the amount of seating than it has now, a second bathroom and plenty of natural light that pours in from six skylights. 

Co-owner Stefan Hersh said the new second level plans to open within the next two weeks and more than doubles seating capacity from 22 to 48.

The second level features a long community table that will be in the center of the room, alongside bench seating that will face four-top tables. A small room offers classes for making espresso and pour-over coffee workshops, too.

"Because the seating up there is with larger tables, we're also imagining bigger meetings going on and want to make the space available for evening event rentals, too," Hersh said.

Though the second-level isn't open, Hersh said regular customers experienced "a rubberneck effect" when the cafe reopened a few weeks ago after having temporarily closed to do major construction, which included raising the roof.

"Their heads kept swiveling up and down as they checked out how different it looks, it changes the whole vibe, there's more natural light and there's a sense of openness.  Even the acoustics have changed, it's not so clattery like it used it be," Hersh said.

The coffee shop, which specializes in small batch roasted, high-end coffees from around the world, is nestled between the recently shuttered Cans — in a space that is rumored to be hosting a major retailer soon — and Goddess and Grocer, which is planning to move across the street into the former Dairy Queen space at 1646 N. Damen Ave.

Hersh said he's seen a lot of changes since opening in January 2010 just north of the Milwaukee-Damen-North avenues intersection.

"Damen has had a radical transformation. It's all moved very upmarket. ... We think it's great as long as the neighborhood can keep its distinct charm and have local independent businesses, too."

A violinist by trade and a music instructor, Hersh said he and partner Agnes Otworowski, who serves as Buzz Killer Espresso's co-owner and general manager, have a shared passion for coffee that inspired them to open the cafe.

In addition to Damen avenue changing, so has the coffee scene.

"What's cool is how when we opened there was only Ipsento [on Western] and now there's a community of like-minded shops that have opened up. There's a growing awareness of people who will travel to us, Ipsento, Gaslight, The Wormhole and Caffe Streets, and that community didn't exist when we opened," Hersh said.