The Buzz Café has been a mainstay in southeast Oak Park since its opening day almost 16 years ago. For owner Laura Maychruk, the restaurant was never intended to be a mere day job: she always considered owning a restaurant to be a lifestyle choice.
She and her husband Andrew originally purchased the entire building that houses the restaurant and lived there until the impending arrival of their third child drove them to a larger home. With a fourth child added to the mix and an older home in desperate need of rehabilitation, the family has once again moved back to their apartment over the store, until the house is habitable. This time, though, they’re relishing the combination of work and personal life.
The Maychruks bought the Buzz building in 1998, and opened the café three months later. With no children yet, the concept of living above the café was a perfect way for Laura to immerse herself in the business and always be on hand for any issues that might arise, night or day. Fast forward a decade and the Maychruks had two children and another on the way. For the first time, they started to think about what life would be like in a house.
According to Laura, part of the impetus for the move was the American dream of owning a house.
“We moved because we were expecting our third,” she said, “and we wanted a yard for the kids and the whole experience of having a neighborhood.”
Laura readily admits that in the booming real estate environment of 2008, they bought a house that might not have been livable — or mortgage-able — in today’s environment.
“We bought a house that didn’t have running water,” she recalls, “and we bought at the worst time. We kept bidding on houses and losing, so there was a sense of urgency. We made a decision to buy a house that was un-occupy-able. We did the minimum that needed to be done to be able to live there at the time.”
With a fourth child joining the mix and enough time to really think about what they needed in the home, the Maychruks planned a renovation to bring the home up to modern standards. For the duration of the project, they returned to living above the Buzz — a move that Laura has wholeheartedly embraced.
“It’s 1600 square feet, so we’re not suffering at all. It’s actually really fun to be living up there. The kids love going downstairs to get breakfast or lunch. All four of them play baseball, so we’ve been busy from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night for the past two months. It’s been incredibly convenient to be able to get quick dinners at the restaurant.”
The one challenge? Opening the apartment to the community. Laura allows local groups such as book clubs, mom-and-tot groups and acting classes to meet in the space, and rather than displace them when the family moved back in, she chose to work around them.
“When the meetings are going on, that can be a challenge,” she notes. “Everyone has to be quiet, and the room has to be clean.”
With family life in full swing, Laura is finding that living back above the café has its pluses for her work life. A licensed realtor since 1993, she and partner David Gullo have office space above the café, so living in the space allows her easy access to her real estate work, and she relishes having more time at the café without a commute.
“We love it. I can’t say enough about how nice it is because you’re so in tune with the business. We stepped away a bit for a few years because of the kids, but it’s great to be back. If you really love your business, you’d love living above it.”
Her work hours have increased. According to her husband, she now works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but for Laura the lines between work and family life are happily blurred.
“The staff is probably more freaked out about seeing me in my nightgown than I am freaked out about that possibility,” she observed. “My staff is like family to me. Many of them have been here for years. Through my pregnancies, labor, nursing, everything was very public and shared. This is a true Mom and Pop business, and they are like part of my family.”
As in many family businesses, the Maychruks have plans to integrate their kids into the Buzz when they are of age, says Laura.
“The kids are going to work here once they are old enough — whether they like it or not. Once the oldest is 14, she can officially be on the schedule as a dishwasher. Who knows if any one of them will take it over? It’s a lifestyle choice, so we’ll have to see.”
The Maychruks’ contractor has their home renovation moving along, so they hope to be back in their house in the fall, but for the time being, the experiment in home renovation and living and working above The Buzz has combined all of Laura’s passions: family, work, restoration and community.
“I’m not the kind of person who likes quiet,” she says. “I like the people and the noise. I can talk to my customers a lot more about their lives and hear their feedback about what they think we should be doing or what works well. At the same time, I love renovation, and I love going back to my house to see what’s been done every day. I like the restoration of something old. It’s like birth — I love the process of creating something and bringing out the original character and charm.
“Harrison Street is in the same boat — the neglected old houses you see with all the foreclosures and vacant properties. It’s my life goal to make this street vibrant again and to restore the neighborhood again.”