August 31st, 1998 was a momentous day in our lives, and, as it turns out, the lives of many Oak Parkers.
After purchasing the vacant building at 905 S. Lombard and renovating it for 3 months, Buzz Café opened at 6am that day. The walls were largely bare, the chairs were plain wood, there were no planned events or live music… We served coffee, tea, juices, so- das, cookies, scones, muffins, pastries and a handful of sandwiches. Not to mention, we only had me and 3 employees to run the place.
Over the next few days, weeks and months, Buzz Café changed in order to meet the demands of our customers. We immediately hired 12 people in the first week to manage the amount of business, then customers started asking if we would serve eggs, toast, sausage, bacon etc…SO, we started making hot breakfast items.
Then an artist came in and asked if he could hang his art on the walls and advertise them for sale—I said, sure, and we started selling local art. A musician came in and asked if she could play live music in the evenings, I said, I think that would be great, and we began scheduling live music. A political organizer came in and asked if he could schedule an event at the café, I said, of course, and we started hosting events.
We also listened to our customers asking us for different food items and longer hours, so we expanded our menu to include organics, vegan, vegetarian etc…and our lengthened our hours. By the end of our first year in business, it was almost unrecognizable from our initial concept of a simple coffee shop. In 1999 we moved into the apartment above the café, as we realized how much easier it would be for us to do so.
We lived there for 8 years and had 3 out of our 4 kids while living there. In those days, the Café was a way of life for us, not a job. We did it 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Those were not easy years. I think back on them fondly now, but at the time, it was tough. Somehow we were able to manage through tough times—9/11 terrorist attack, the recession, rising food costs, power outages and a million more crisis! Through it all, customers kept coming.
We also formed meaningful friendships with MANY customers during that time. Friendships that continue on today and have enriched our lives in incredible ways.
Buzz Café, as you know it today, is the way it is because of YOU. All of the many customers that came through our doors and asked for something new.
We have built our business by listening to and doing what YOU have asked and now we are thought of as an “institution”. I am humbled and grateful everyday for the opportunity to serve the Oak Park community for an unbelievable 20 years.
This year, we decided it was time to refresh the restaurant. We are open 361 days per year and have done that for 20 years. The wear and tear that we have put this building through is incredible. The time has come for new floors, storefront, equipment and lighting. We will be closing for 2 weeks to accomplish this momentous task.
We hope you will join us on our official 20th birthday for a celebration to honor our customers. We will have FREE coffee and cake all day, live music throughout the day and our awesome partner Metropolis Coffee Company will be giving out free samples. The renovations at Buzz Café, will hopefully improve the customer experience as well as take care of some sorely needed repairs and updates.
The timing could not be better, as our neighbors, throughout the Oak Park Arts District are also in renovation mode! It is a very exciting time for the area, the neighborhood and for Oak Park. I have been pleased to be a part of the re-birth of the Arts District and help further define it as an “Arts” District.
Our re-investment in the building and neighborhood, will hopefully sustain us for the next 20 years. In the picture at the top of this page, you will see my family. Some of you may even know my daughter Lydia and Irene as servers in the café. Next year, Henry will join the Buzz work force. My hope is that the café will be here as an anchor for the foreseeable future and perhaps, one of my kids will choose to take it on as their own, one day…who knows!