By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
A year ago, Build Coffee opened its doors to welcome a diverse community of creative thinkers, innovators, and coffee lovers into their space in Woodlawn’s Experimental Station building, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave.
The coffee shop has come a long way since its debut last summer. Its transformative space and unique location not only brings together friends but fills the need for a communal space to bridge divides between Hyde Park, Woodlawn and other communities across Chicago.
Co-founders Bea Malsky and Hannah Nyhart said they opened the coffee shop to provide coffee and an open meeting space for the community.
“When we first started working on Build in 2015, the Experimental Station had all of these really exciting projects going on — paradigm-shifting journalism, Blackstone Bikes, the farmers market — with no constant public gathering space,” said Nyhart. “We wanted to create a room where our neighbors could come together and collaborate.”
Malsky and Nyhart had originally worked together as the first and second in command at South Side Weekly, a free newspaper based next door to their coffee shop, during their undergraduate years at the University of Chicago. Both knew that after they graduated they wanted to continue their work with the community and decided to take the chance and open Build.
“We knew that we were invested in continuing to make something together and in the community arts-centered public space,” added Malsky. “Build is a unique intersection of groups and always has a flurry of activity going on around it, and we try to make it a really inclusive and intergenerational room. Our bookstore also sets us apart – we have both used books and new at lots of different price points, and many of the zines and art books we have aren’t available anywhere else on the South Side or in Chicago.”
Build’s bookstore also sells used books, local small press publications, journals and comics.
Since its opening, Build has acted as a small venue for over 100 public events including performances, workshops, gallery shows, book clubs, game nights and more. “Just about all of them have been free,” said Nyhart.
One of Build’s popular events is its weekly Thursday night Public Newsroom with City Bureau, a journalism workshop, where they invite journalists and community organizers in to talk about a different topic or project each week.
“I love having that at Build. It’s a chance for journalists to step back and consider what they’re doing, and for people outside the media to learn about how it works and talk back when they don’t feel they’re being heard,” said Malsky. “We’ve also had a monthly game night with Game Changer Chicago—each one has a theme, like food games or epidemics. We have a monthly story time at the 61st Street Farmers Market. We also use our wall space for small gallery shows from South Side artists.”
On days when activities are not scheduled, seats in the business often fill with customers chatting over coffee, journalists gathering together notes, families coming in to get a quick bite and individuals plugging in their devices and setting up shop for a day of working in the café’s seating areas.
Currently, Build Coffee is featuring a photography show from Ireashia Monét. Malsky said they brought the artist’s grandmother to opening night to have an artist talk about a documentary they made together.
Build Coffee has also steadily expanded its menu, adding more salad, breakfast and sandwich options.
“We’ve been lucky to work with a ton of amazing vendors, almost all local, HalfWit coffee, Justice of the Pies, Bot Bakery, Publican Quality Bread, and Fabiana’s Bakery are the ones we rely on most,” said Nyhart.
As for the future, the Build Coffee team has high hopes and wishes to share their space with as many people as possible.
“I’m so grateful for how quickly folks have come to care about the shop. People will bring in their parents or their hometown friend, or their long-distance partner — I dig it when our regulars bring the people they love in to see a space that’s become important to them,” said Nyhart. “In terms of the future, I want to get more food on our menu, I want to keep growing and changing with our team, who are some of the best humans in the universe, and I want to be so good for so long that nobody remembers the block without us.”
Build Coffee is open Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.