Afro Joe’s Cafe opens in Beverly as City Grange closes South Side location

BEVERLY — Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea, a popular South Side cafe, has finally found a new home and will reopen.

Neighbors will soon be able to order lavender lattes, cold brews, short rib grilled cheese and more at the store’s new location, 1818 W. 99th St. The location once housed City Grange, a garden center.

City Grange quietly announced the closure of its Lincoln Square and 99th Street locations on its website.

Husband and wife owners Kendall and Aisha Griffin said they can’t wait to bring a taste of their staple Auburn Gresham to Beverly. It’s been a “whirlwind” of a reopening process, but they’re excited to bring “the same flavor of Afro Joe” to the community.

“I grew up in the Beverly area, so it’s kind of like coming home,” Kendall Griffin said. “It’s bittersweet because we’re leaving Auburn Gresham, but we’re excited to introduce a new community to Afro Joe’s.”

Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago
Kendall Griffin, with his wife, Aisha, and their daughter. The Griffins opened Afro Joe’s in Auburn Gresham in October 2020.

Afro Joe’s opened in Auburn Gresham in October 2020. After noticing a lack of cafes on the South Side, the couple decided to bring “unpretentious great tasting coffee” to the community, Kendall Griffin told the ‘era.

Despite two burglaries in August, the owners have vowed to stay at Auburn Gresham and praised the community for their encouragement to continue their business.

But in March the couple announced they would have to move out after its landlord refused to renew the cafe’s lease. The owner, Bonciel Griffin-Burress, who is the sister of one of the owners and runs a dental practice on the other side of the building, confirmed that she had not renewed the cafe’s lease because she and the owners “couldn’t come to a mutual agreement”. The shop’s last day at Auburn Gresham was April 10.

The couple had previously worked with City Grange to open a second location, they said. The new store would have operated as an express cafe with a limited menu.

But when City Grange closed, they were offered the chance to take over the entire space and “everything fell into place,” Aisha Griffin said.

“It’s funny how something that seemed like such a bad thing turned into a really good thing because it allows us to grow,” Kendall Griffin said. “It’s almost too perfect.”

The location of the new store is also a plus, said Kendall Griffin. Residents of Auburn Gresham are only minutes away from their old stomping ground. Some customers have already pledged to make the quick trip, he said.

“Most of our customers in the area said, ‘Hey, that’s not far. We’ll see you when you open,” Kendall Griffin said. “We don’t think we’re going to lose a lot of people. We think they will travel 2-3 miles to the new location. I think it will be cool to merge the neighborhoods. We’ll have a really good Auburn Gresham crowd and then the new Beverly crowd.

The new Afro Joe’s will have quite a few upgrades.

Customers can still expect the fresh coffee and cooked-to-order meals that helped the store make a name for itself, Kendall Griffin said. Community discussions focusing on maternal health, child literacy and community development will always be on the agenda. Saturday Soul Sessions and art shows aren’t going anywhere.

But thanks to the extra space offered by City Grange, the store will now have a bigger kitchen and outdoor patio, on-site parking and more dining space inside.

Pet owners can also bring their dogs into what the Griffins call “barking ground.”

“We’re going to segregate an area for our neighborhood dogs so … they can have a place to hang out that’s their home while their owners kick back and have a coffee and a sandwich,” Kendall Griffin said.

When the location opens, it will be the second cafe to join the 99th Street Corridor – across the street is the Two Mile Coffee Bar.

But the owners don’t see the other store as a rival, Kendall Griffin said. They bring more income to the community.

“We don’t think there will be any bad blood,” he said. “Coffee shops are community spaces, and each shop has its own identity and aesthetic. The more businesses you have here, the more businesses it will generate, which is good for everyone. Good traffic and good business benefits everyone.

Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago
Owner Kendall Griffin stands next to the Afro Joe’s sign.

Over the past few weeks, the Griffins have moved at “lightning speed,” they said. After taking their first vacation since the pandemic began, the couple got to work.

Kendall Griffin paints the shop. Electricians and plumbers renovate the space. The city is reviewing the store’s business license. Soon they will start hiring more staff, Kendall Griffin said.

For now, the goal is to open the shop. Once that’s done, the real fun begins, Kendall Griffin said.

“We can’t wait to see our guests from Auburn Gresham. We miss them,” Kendall Griffin said. “And we’re thrilled to meet all the folks in Beverly. We are excited about the future and can’t wait to open.

The Griffins plan to stay true to their promise to return to Auburn Gresham, they said. They are already in talks to secure funding for another location in the neighborhood.

“We feel comfortable in the business, and now we’re trying to grow it,” Kendall Griffin said. “That’s the future for us: doing good business and growing.”

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