PORTAGE PARK — Every morning, Robert Quezada and his girlfriend would run the paths around Portage Park, only to find nowhere nearby to recover from their workout with a jolt of java or a celebratory brunch.
"We were really frustrated that we had to jump in our car to get a cup of coffee," Quezada said. "So two years ago, we decided to do something about it."
Portage Grounds, 5501 W. Irving Park Road, is designed to be a new neighborhood gathering space near Portage Park, which has been surrounded for years by empty storefronts and few, if any, places for residents to hang out, Quezada said.
"We wanted to put some TLC in this place and make it presentable for the neighborhood," Quezada said, noting that the building was in bad shape when he and his brother, Saul, began renovating the storefront with tender loving care.
With sleekly finished concrete floors, the coffee bar is paneled with wood reclaimed from a farm in southern Illinois. The shop also features a glass-enclosed quiet room, which Quezada said he hoped would become a meeting room for community groups — or simply a place for people to work or enjoy some peace and quiet.
A former Marine, Quezada grew up near Schurz High School and moved to Portage Park as a kid, and has lived there ever since.
"This neighborhood needs shops and stores," Quezada said.
The coffee shop, which brews Intelligentsia coffee, is next to a X Sport Fitness gym, which opened earlier this year in a new building on what used to be a car dealership. Although he had thought gym rats would make up the majority of his customers, most have been from the neighborhood, Quezada said.
The shop's baristas are from the Portage Park neighborhood, and Quezada said he was working to train them to brew cups of coffee on par with what coffee-lovers can find in Logan Square of Wicker Park.
Quezada, who praised Ald. John Arena (45th) and Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) for helping him cut through voluminous red tape at City Hall, said he hoped to capitalize on the improving Irving-Austin Business District, just west of Portage Park, and the new life east of the park at the Six Corners Shopping District.
"There are so many things I have left to finish," Quezada said. "But it is so great to finally be open."
Bike 45 Chicago will gather at Portage Grounds at 9 a.m. Saturday for a 15-mile ride throughout the Northwest Side.