Daring Dames: Ally Brisbin, Owner of Kitchen Sink Café
Every good neighborhood needs a good café with good coffee. A watery slosh from 7/11 or an uninspired corporate Coolatta from the local Dunkin’ Donuts does not a neighborhood make. There needs to be a little finesse. Art on the walls. Comfortable chairs. Cues that the establishment is not just passing through, exchanging drinks for dollars, but that the barista knows where the nearest post office is and a little background on the local crazy people. This, my friends, makes a neighborhood café.
Ally did not major in business, or hospitality management, or culinary arts. Rather, she majored in journalism, moved from upstate New York to Chicago two years ago, took a job as a barista at the coffeehouse Pause, and then later bought it with her co-owner, transforming it into the wonderful neighborhood joint that it is.
When asked if she had ever wanted to open a business, Ally laughed. It had never been her intention. After moving to Chicago and working with friends at Pause, Ally and the staff quickly realized they might be aboard a sinking ship. Paychecks bounced, quality was heading south, and the staff began to talk. Ally and her friend Jeff, both baristas, began to imagine what it would be like to run it themselves. After months of planning, securing loans, and making offers to the owner of Pause, they finally had an accepted offer and the place was theirs.
The learning curve was huge, Ally was quick to point out. Obtaining permits in the city of Chicago is something akin to an obstacle course, not to mention all of the aesthetic details. Aside from business skills, Ally learned power tools. When they closed Pause, they worked around the clock for two months, readying for reopening. On New Year’s Eve of last year, they passed their inspections and opened for business on January 4th, 2010.
Ally strives to be part of the neighborhood around her. The Kitchen Sink Café blog has short video interviews with regular customers and local business owners, fostering a real sense of community. Among those featured on her blog is Todd, a guerilla artist who started anonymously leaving collages around Kitchen Sink, in the bathrooms and on the bulletin board, and now that she knows who the artist is, Ally is considering having him decorate the place in a more permanent way by perhaps covering the bathroom walls in his art. Some of the sandwiches are named after local people and places, such as the Miss Ollie, named for the barkeep of Ollie’s bar across the street.
Come in and grab a drink on your way to the train, sit and study for hours, or reserve one of their large tables for your book group or block club. Kitchen Sink offers everything but the…well, the name says it all. But Ally and co-owner Jeff Fox, as well as the rest of their team, are so inviting, they might offer it to you anyway if you ask nicely.
**Kitchen Sink Cafe is wheelchair accessible