Coffee, culture make for unique brew at Evanston hangout
Chinelo Oparache chose a name for her coffee house that reflects her spiritual faith. The name is an abbreviation for "God provides." She says her faith kept her going during the 13 month challenge to renovate the Foster Street space. | Carol Goddard~For
NAME: J.J. Java’s Coffee House
SPECIALTY: Freshly roasted coffee
ADDRESS: 911 Foster St., Evanston
INFORMATION: (847) 440-5555; www.jjjava.com
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:43AM
EVANSTON — The fading sign above the storefront at 911 Foster St., just east of the Purple Line stop, reads Great Expectations, once a fixture for used-book lovers. But a bright sign on the window announces the space as J.J. Java’s Coffee House.
Step inside and it’s clear this is neither a bookstore nor an outpost of a corporate coffee chain. The generous space features warehouse-like brick walls and painted cement floors. Overstuffed, well-worn couches and chairs beckon visitors to relax while a number of tables and chairs entice them to open a laptop and enjoy the free Wi-Fi. A small stage near the front signals that entertainment is part of the scene.
Although the space has been open less than a year, owner Chinelo Oparaeche, of Evanston, has a lot of big plans. She wants to create a gathering to bring the Northwestern and Evanston communities together.
“I want to give them a sense of how it could be,” she said. “Evanston residents don’t like students, even the city officials told me that.”
She wants to provide opportunities for budding musicians and comedians to perform in front of a live audience; she wants to provide healthy and delicious meals at reasonable costs; she wants to provide a place for locals to play games and socialize. A small space in the back is available for private meetings.
But most of all she wants to educate local palates about the taste of freshly roasted coffee. Her academic background in chemistry helped her develop the coffee she sells.
“I want to give people the best,” she said. “I had to teach myself. Coffee has a lot of acidity, but not naturally so. When you roast it, it’s good for two months. After that, natural oxidation turns it acidic.”
Her coffees are all organic and fair trade, and most are shade grown. She has a small roaster in the full kitchen on site and can have freshly roasted coffee ready for bulk purchase in 15 minutes.
Besides coffee, she offers a full range of teas, soft drinks, unique ice cream dishes, breakfast treats that include pastries as well as pancakes and breakfast burritos. On Fridays and Saturdays she cooks bistro meals — Beef Bourguignon, Chicken Paillard, Salmon Beurre Blanc and Fettuccine Romano.
Her path from Nigerian village girl to Evanston coffeehouse owner does not take a direct line. She came to this country as a struggling international student interested in pursuing a pharmacy degree, but the only scholarship she was offered was in chemistry from Carthage College in Kenosha. To support herself as a full-time student, she started selling gift items, then leased a space to sell her items but eventually opted to open a coffee shop in that Winthrop Harbor site.
After struggling for four years, she was convinced by one of her customers to relocate to a town more receptive to good coffee — Evanston.
A visit to the city sealed it for her. “Evanston felt good, this is the place to locate my coffee shop,” she said.
She signed the lease for the current spot in October 2010, but it took 13 months to develop plans, get city approval and renovate the space. Along the way, she had to overcome unscrupulous tradesmen and an accident that totaled her car (she poured the settlement money into the business). Since she couldn’t afford a general contractor, she studied for the test to get her license so she could do it herself.
During the ordeal, she says her faith sustained her: “I’m a spiritual person. Sometimes He orchestrates my path in ways I don’t understand.”
J.J. Java’s is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. During the school year, it stays open until 2 p.m. Telephone is (847) 440-5555. Website is www.jjjava.com.