Rosa Cruz, owner of Great Sip Café, serves a latte made from beans sourced from Passion House Coffee Roasters. | Melissa Elsmo

Upon entering Great Sip Café, 818 S. Oak Park Ave., patrons are welcomed by a wall of photographs and the words, ‘Every family has a story; welcome to ours.’ Berwyn resident Rosa Cruz has put her family at the heart of her newly opened coffee shop that boasts a fresh coat of orange paint, comfortable seating and a sense of possibility.

Cruz spent her childhood tending the coffee plants in her grandmother’s back yard garden in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. At 10 years old she would start her morning with a breakfast of hot coffee and a hunk of bread before heading into the garden to tend to the coffee plants — harvesting the berries, extracting the beans and drying them in the sun. The dried beans were then roasted and ground before brewing.

“In Santiago coffee was part of every day,” said Cruz. “It was common to grow coffee in your back yard in the Dominican Republic. We would have coffee in morning, afternoon, and evening. I am still the same way. I just love it!”

This early tree-to-cup approach to drinking coffee transformed Cruz into a lifetime lover of a good caffeine jolt and now she has turned her passion into a small business. With the support of her daughter, Diana De La Cruz, she quietly opened Great Sip Café in the former home of Addis Café at the beginning of July.

“My dream is to have coffee shop,” said Cruz. “I would tell myself that it would happen one day and when I saw this place God told me this is the moment. This is the day.”

In fact, Kalkidan Tesfaye, owner of Addis Café, gave Cruz and her daughter their first tour of the space. Even though Addis Café moved and reopened just across the street from her former location, Tesfaye was supportive of Cruz bringing another café to the 800 block of south Oak Park Avenue.

“I am all about loving my neighbors,” said Tesfaye. “I told them it will all work out and to look deep into their culture to find something that works for them. It really is the more the merrier on this block.”

“Kalki was so nice and welcoming to us and said there was enough room for both businesses here,” said De La Cruz. “We were starting from scratch and this space required less capital because it had infrastructure in place.”

Though Cruz may be new to café ownership, she is a small business veteran.  She started a house cleaning business in 2001 that grew into a commercial janitorial service business. Today Cruz owns and operates RC Janitorial Services in addition to running Great Sip Café. The cleaning business connects her to the Oak Park community where she lived with her family before moving to Berwyn. That same entrepreneurial spirit is the characteristic both Cruz and her daughter anticipate will help their new business thrive.

Cruz is a “stickler” about how coffee should taste and went in search of a purveyor that offered a smooth tasting blend evocative of the coffee she enjoyed as a child. They found the perfect product in Bassline Espresso from Chicago’s Passion House Coffee Roasters citing its slightly sweet cocoa notes and nutty flavor profile as selling points. In the future they hope to build on the types of coffee they serve at Great Sip Café and intend to focus on Latin-owned and woman owned coffee roasters. For now, the café menu consists of the classic array of coffee drinks and a small food menu. Their brown sugar latte and jamon Punta Cana sandwich are proving to be popular among current customers.

Great Sip is a “grass roots kind of place” that Cruz hopes to develop to meet the needs and desires of the community it serves and her own family. De La Cruz and her mother view the café as a place to share with artists and artisans. They intend to bring in Latina made products that Oak Park residents may not be familiar with.

During the pandemic Cruz took classes to learn more about the science behind brewing a perfect cup of coffee, but she is clear Great Sip Café is going to be a place that allows her to share her personal love of coffee with customers she intends to treat like family.

“It is about a having a place for people to hang out together,” said De La Cruz. “Everyone who comes in here on the weekend is bound to meet our family; we’re always here drinking coffee and talking. I know those days make my mom happiest.”

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