PORTAGE PARK — When life handed David Ratulowski lemons, the 31-year-old made tea.
Ratulowski originally planned to open a tattoo shop at 5755 W. Irving Park Road — in the heart of the Irving Austin Business District — only to find out after he signed a year-long lease that city law made that illegal.
Instead, David Ratulowski and his brother Damian Ratulowski, 29, turned the once-vacant storefront into Tea'se Tea Shoppe, hoping to capitalize on the growing demand for a smoother way to reach a caffeine high. The cafe opened its doors Friday.
"My brother and I got really into tea, and now it's my passion, just like tattooing," David Ratulowski said. "It is so much healthier than coffee."
The shop is a few doors down from their father Michael Ratulowski's art glass studio, where he has worked for four years crafting elaborate yet delicate flowers and abstract objects. He had another studio nearby for more than two decades, where his sons spent much of their childhood.
The brothers removed the storefront's drop-celing to reveal the original tin ceiling. A wire-and-glass chandelier crafted by Michael Ratulowski hangs just inside the front door, which is framed by flower boxes featuring both live and glass blooms.
"I'm proud of what they did," Michael Ratulowski said, beaming as his sons greeted friends and customers at a grand opening attended by Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th).
The store offers loose-leaf tea in dozens of exotic flavors, such as Mojito Martini and Organic Strawberry Milkshake, stored in retro-chic Ball Mason Jars lining the shop's lime green walls, decorated by David Ratulowski with a mural of a white-blossomed tree.
The shop also sells tea accessories, with strainers, carafes, tea pots and mugs lining a wall near the register.
Tea-lovers can stock up on their favorite home brew, or hang out and sip hot or iced tea in the cafe, David Ratulowski said, adding that he hopes to create a community of Portage Park tea lovers.
The Irving Austin Business District is poised to take off, David Ratulowski said, although it remains pockmarked with empty storefronts and the Patio Theater, at Irving Park Road and Austin Avenue, closed its doors at the end of April because of a busted heating and air conditioning system.
The district has been without a cafe since December when Regulus Coffee House closed up shop. An April fundraiser was designed to help reopen the cafe at 6032 W. Irving Park Road, but owner Brent Bogseth tweeted Thursday that the company was "taking the summer off to look for a new place."
David Ratulowski said he was confident Tea'se would thrive, despite the issues in the business district.
"I think it is a great location," David Ratulowski said. "I couldn't be more excited."