Royal Coffee, an Ethiopian coffee shop in Rogers Park just a few blocks from Loyola, closed its doors May 1 after a decade of operation.
Although the storefront, located at 6764 N. Sheridan Road, is closed, owner Yodit Bekeley said the business plans to sell its coffee at local markets, such as Devon Market. Bekeley said she will look for a new location after a temporary break.
The closure is due in large part to the rising cost of rent in the building, Bekeley said. Despite this, she said Rogers Park residents have been supportive throughout the years.
“Rogers Park, they fight for us,” she said. “They are working for us to find a place with low rent.”
Royal Coffee sources its coffee beans from Ethiopia, where Bekeley and her husband used to live. The coffee shop’s website says the coffee beans are never blended and all come from the same farm where the owners know the farmers.
Resident Selomie Berhane, who’s also from Ethiopia and used to visit the coffee shop every Saturday, said she enjoys the coffee and french toast at Royal Coffee.
“The coffee, the macchiato, it reminds me of home,” she said.
However, she said the food and drink weren’t the only thing she loved about Royal Coffee.
“My favorite memory is the very warm hug that Yodit gives us whenever we walked in,” Berhane said. “She knows our name and she knows our drink and she’s so caring.”
The restaurant often played jazz music and had regulars who came to chat, relax or work at the tables around the restaurant. Potted plants lined the windows and a mural covered the main wall.
Rogers Park resident Matthew Muir has been visiting the coffee shop for five years and said Royal Coffee stood out because of its friendly environment.
“The biggest thing for me is the ownership. … Anytime I walked in there, there was such a friendly reception,” Muir, 30, said. “Every time [the owners] would greet me and shake my hand … it’s such a welcoming atmosphere for a lot of people.”
Berhane said for her, Royal Coffee was more than a coffee shop.
“When I think of Rogers Park I think of Royal [Coffee], and I think of Royal [Coffee] as home,” she said. “It’s not going to be the same.”
On the second to last day, Bekeley hugged customers and took pictures with the regulars. She even gave away an umbrella to a customer to help them withstand the downpour outside.
Bekeley said she would miss the community and the connections she made with residents and students over the years.
“Loyola kids are like my kids … and I’m going to miss that,” she said.
Bekeley said she and her husband originally moved to the area from Ethiopia after their daughter enrolled at Columbia College Chicago. She said they then fell in love with Rogers Park.
“My time here is so fabulous, wonderful, happy everyday,” Bekeley said. “Rogers Park is very supportive, [and] because of them I raised four kids down here. … I feel like I’m born and raised in Rogers Park.”
Royal Coffee’s closure followed several other local businesses closings, including Heartland Cafe and Leona’s.
Heartland Cafe at 7000 N. Glenwood Ave. was a local restaurant that offered vegetarian food, as well as live music and open mics during the week. Leona’s was an Italian restaurant which served pizza and pasta at 6935 N. Sheridan Road.
Maria Hadden, 49th Ward alderwoman-elect, released a statement on the closure reaffirming her commitment to small businesses and reassuring the community there are many factors that may cause a business to close its doors.
“I’ve been in touch with all of the owners to learn about which challenges we as a community, and myself as alderwoman, can work on to help our remaining incredible small businesses stay,” she wrote.
The statement acknowledged rent and real estate taxes in the 49th Ward were a factor in some of the neighborhood closings, but other owners have closed up shop to retire.
Muir has lived in Rogers Park for 13 years and said while there are certain spots that struggle more than others, there has been an uptick in closings in the past year.
Muir, a lobbyist, said Rogers Park will feel the loss of Royal Coffee.
“We’ve lost not just a coffee shop but a community gathering place,” Muir said.
Bekeley said the last day was emotional, since it was also the 10th anniversary of when the shop first opened. She said there weren’t any special plans for the final day.
“Just the people that come, [we] will celebrate together,” she said.