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Kusanya Cafe To Offer Rare Sit-Down Dining in Englewood

By Wendell Hutson | October 30, 2013 8:51am
 A new cafe is set to open Nov. 1 in Englewood by a nonprofit organization.
Kusanya Cafe
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ENGLEWOOD — When Kusanya Cafe opens next month, it will give residents a place to meet friends, eat a sandwich and sip a cup of coffee.

While such a cafe wouldn't be a big deal in many other Chicago neighborhoods, it's something hard to come by in Englewood, said Phil Sipka, executive director of the nonprofit Kusanya Cafe organization. He said that the nearby restaurant Sikia, which is run by Washburne Culinary Institute students at Kennedy-King College, is only open for lunch three days a week and closes during breaks.

"I feel comfortable in saying there are no sit-down restaurants in West Englewood," said Sipka, 33. "I live a block away from the cafe, have lived in Englewood for five years, and many residents like myself do not want to leave the neighborhood for simple things like a cup of coffee."

The cafe, at 825 W. 69th St., will provide free Wi-Fi to customers and be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday but closed on Sundays. It will offer breakfast and lunch items, and it seats 25 people.

Sipka hopes to officially open the restaurant in mid-November. A pre-grand opening is set for Friday evening, and will double as a fundraiser for the cafe. Advance tickets are $20 and can be purchased online, or customers can pay $25 at the door.

Sipka said his organization has been trying to open the cafe for four years.

"It took two years to find a space to lease. And the other two years we had issues with the landlord changing ownership. It's hard to get commercial financing for projects in Englewood," Sipka said. "In the end, one of our board members ended up buying the building [that houses the cafe], and that's what finally got the ball rolling for us."

Still, located on the ground floor of a two-story apartment building, the cafe is not in an ideal location for a business, Sipka said.

"I guess we could have found a more visible location for the cafe where lots of people would be, but then it would not be a neighborhood cafe," he said. "We want our customers to be residents, not just people who come to Englewood to work or go to school."

Donald Highsmith, a 30-year-old Park Manor resident, will be a manager at the cafe and work with Sipka and three other employees. Highsmith and Sipka became friends at Cannan Community Church in Englewood. They hope to host poetry readings and open mic nights.

And despite the shooting and other crime Englewood, Highsmith said he is not worried about his business.

"There will be no bulletproof glass installed or armed security guards frisking customers at the door," Highsmith said. "That would not make a person feel welcomed, and we want everyone who comes here to feel comfortable. I feel safer walking through Englewood than my own neighborhood."

This will be the second cafe to open this year in the city's 6th Ward, represented by Ald. Roderick Sawyer. In July, Zuli Turner and her mother Olga Turner opened Flecks Cafe, 343 E. 79th St.

And giving back to the community is something that, with its nonprofit status, Kusanya Café will do, according to Sipka. He said the café would feature items from Chicago vendors, such as Dat Donut in Chatham and Bridgeport Coffee Co. in Bridgeport.

A Whole Foods Market is set to open an Englewood store at 63rd and Halsted streets by 2015, but Sipka said he is not worried about losing business.

"No one goes to a grocery store to sit down and drink coffee. You go there to buy food, not to relax and talk to your friends," Sipka said.