Short of locking the front and back doors, the Buzz Café was about as far from being at risk of armed robbery as a business can be Thursday night. The popular coffee shop and meeting place at 905 S. Lombard Ave. was full of customers, there was heavy street traffic just outside from returning commuters, and a police officer was on duty a block away near the Lombard Avenue Blue Line el stop.
Buzz owner Laura Maychruk happened to be leaving the café with her three small children via the rear door at exactly 6 p.m. Thursday. As she entered the private rear parking lot, she saw a man and woman in an older car with Indiana license plates pull up to a parking space. They looked, Maychruk said, a bit scruffy and out of place. The man got out of the car and walked down the alley. Meanwhile, the woman, who had pulled in front first, backed out of the space, then parked again, this time with the car facing forward out of the space.
Her suspicions aroused, Maychruk decided to speak with the woman.
"I told her, 'You can't really park here, this is private property,'" Maychruk said she told the woman. But when the woman said that the man had just run into the café to make a quick purchase, Maychruk relented, somewhat against her better judgment, and continued with the task of loading her kids into her vehicle for a trip to the park. Minutes later, just after 6:20, as she sat at the playground with her kids, she got a call on her cell phone that her business had been robbed.
A man matching the description of the one Maychruk had seen in the alley?#34;male, white, 30-35 years old, with a shaved head and a bruise on his neck?#34;had spent some 20 minutes drinking coffee and apparently reading a book at a table near the back of the restaurant. Just before 6:20 p.m. he walked up to the front counter, lifted up his shirt to reveal the wood handle of a revolver and demanded money from the cash register.
"He said something to the effect of, 'This restaurant is full of families. Give me the money,'" Maychruk said. The woman behind the counter complied, turning over $385, and the man fled the restaurant, running north on Lombard.
Calling the loss of money the least of her concerns, Maychruk said she was happy no one got hurt. She also said she was pleased with how her staff handled the whole situation. Both the gunman and the counter clerk, she said, remained calm throughout the incident. In fact, the clerk stayed on through the end of her shift.
However, Maychruk said she's a bit chagrined with herself, saying she wished she'd listened more to her intuition. She'd been suspicious enough to make a mental note of the make and model of the car, as well as the descriptions of its occupants. The license plate number was unviewable, though, due to the woman having parked with the rear bumper facing the building.
What she didn't do was call the police. A tad uncomfortable at appearing to be stereotyping people, Maychruk said that the presence of young whites who routinely come to the area to obtain drugs is a common, if unwelcome sight.
"It's not unusual to see [unkempt] white, 20- and 30-somethings hanging around the area," she said. "There's just something about them where they don't fit in."
"I gave her the benefit of the doubt," she said of the illegally parked woman. "I hesitated whether I should call the police to have them check them out."
Next time will be different, Maychruk vowed Friday. Next time she won't hesitate.
"I'm calling," she said flatly.