Listen To This Post
Building a coffee empire wasn’t always the plan for Bae Coffee co-founder Alicia Zyburt and her husband Devon Owens. But after the couple was furloughed from their hospitality industry jobs last year on account of the pandemic, they found themselves with idle hands — a foreign feeling to the constantly on-the-go pair.
“We’re productive people — sitting around was making us stir crazy,” Zyburt recalled. “So we just kind of closed our eyes, pointed our finger and went where it landed.”
It landed on coffee, something both Zyburt and Owens had ancillary experience with from the early days of their careers. They connected with Allies For Community Business, a small business nonprofit, which led them to Brewpoint Coffee in Elmhurst and a mentor who agreed to teach them to roast their own beans. As it turned out, the couple had a knack for coffee.
“Coffee roasting is very hands-on. It’s also very math- and science-oriented, which isn’t my strong suit,” Zyburt said. “But for some reason it was a language we found ourselves being able to speak with a certain naturalness. Understanding the process made us feel even more comfortable.”
The couple named their coffee concept Bae — in this case, an acronym for “Before anything else” — and little more than a year after they began selling Bae’s glossy pink-and-dark bronze bags of roasted beans through its e-commerce shop, Zyburt and Owens are preparing to open their first brick-and-mortar location at 2945 North Broadway in Lakeview East, the former home of Pastoral. The 800-square-foot space will house a walk-up counter and five to six tables for two to four people.
“We’ll prioritize counter service, but we also want it to be a place where you can sit, read and unwind for an hour if you want,” Zyburt said.
Despite being longtime patrons of Lakeview businesses, it wasn’t technically the first location the couple landed on, Zyburt explained — but in retrospect, she notes, it should have been. The couple found the North Broadway space after negotiations on a location in Edgewater fell through. A rather serendipitous moment on the night before the Zyburt and Owens were set to sign the lease for the Lakeview space confirmed their hunch that it was meant to be Bae’s home.
“We were standing outside talking about whether or not we should rent it, and someone was walking down the street stopped and said, you should do it, you should take the space,” Zyburt recalled. “We felt like this was a sign from the neighborhood.”
In addition to coffee and espresso drinks made from its own beans, Bae will also sell shrubs, teas and sparkling beverages. It also will carry pastries made from local bakeries, with an emphasis on those led by female and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) chefs. Its design will have the same warm-but-sleek look and feel as Bae’s coffee brand, an aesthetic that Zyburt has dubbed “Dollywood minimalist.”
“If you happen to know anyone who knows Dolly Parton, definitely send her our way,” Zyburt said.