Coffee has become a lifeline for me (though I was raised as a tea drinker). Besides a great taste, it’s an incredible antioxidant.
Counter Coffee in Forest Park has been a family friend to our palate mainly because they have gluten-free donuts. So it was to my surprise when in 2019 in the last days of the “real world,” before the pandemic hit, I was able to get a glance at the newly named Kribi Coffee before hunkering down indoors. Even the facade had changed. It looked very “ethnic,” very lively, sticking out like a glorious sore thumb. I stopped in to see what was going on as soon as I was released from the COVID cage.
Team Blonde, the former management company, sold Counter Coffee to Jacques Shalo, a businessman from Cameroon. He redefined the vibe of the corner building at Circle and Madison. The advice for Jacques to open a coffee house came directly from Zev Siegl, co-founder of Starbucks a year after he sent him a letter asking for advice and mentorship. Jacques transformed the vibe of Counter Coffee and the coffee.
Kribi Coffee now has a patented air roaster where people can roast their own coffee on site from the green coffee bean. It puts us in charge of our coffee! Patrons select from fair trade green coffee beans, sustainably picked by Cameroonian farmers. They ship it from the town of Kribi, a resort and import town in Cameroon, to Chicago, making its way to Kribi Coffee in Forest Park.
My routine was to get donuts at Counter Coffee, and then dash down the block to Starbucks to get my coffee to complete my donut and coffee experience. With Kribi coffee on site and my donut, I have calculated I have reduced my carbon footprint by at least 50% (might be an exaggeration) by eliminating making two stops. Kribi has essentially changed my life.
Jacques was raised in a large family as one of the youngest, by a charitable and entrepreneurial matriarch on the family coffee farm in Cameroon. He enlisted family and farmers at a live-able wage, to help create the Kribi brand. After acquiring Counter Coffee, and a warehouse facility in Elmhurst, he lost some customers. He therefore thought it necessary to build relationships with clientele. With a more inviting coffee house, reduced cost per bag, and successful taste tests, it was clear the process was better.
This led to exceptional growth through the pandemic as people were able to come to Kribi and roast their own coffee.
Now Jacques is expanding after becoming a million-dollar business. Kribi Coffee was also selected by Oak Park to open a location in early October, in what will be the newly built Focus building in Oak Park, across from Poor Phil’s restaurant. The customer will be in charge of the brand here too, in the African spirit of Ubuntu, an African proverb that means, “If we are going to get there, we will get there together.”
He is actively raising capital for those who want to be owners in the Kribi Coffee experience by launching a campaign in September and October. If you would like to own part of the Kribi Coffee franchise, you can reach him at Jacques@kribicoffee.com.
EL Serumaga is a resident of River Forest and Founder of ecovici.com.