Local Coffee Shop Becomes Laidback Dinner Joint

The Archie's crew enjoying a sunny day.

By: Abby Utley

After experiencing a decrease in usual coffee demands due to COVID-19, Archie’s, an independently owned coffee shop, adapted within a week so that it could continue to serve good food and fun times to the Rogers Park community.

Roberta Schmatz, owner of Archie’s (1228 W Loyola Ave), raised her kids in Rogers Park, so she knows the neighborhood very well. After years of running her art studio and gallery, she thought the neighborhood needed a local coffee shop, so she decided to “share the space.”  Her vision of Archie’s was a community gathering spot where customers can enjoy “ethically sourced” and “thoughtfully produced” food. She quickly became a staple of the Rogers Park community, as she received most of her business from Loyola students and the surrounding neighborhoods.

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped small businesses in their tracks, Roberta was immediately thinking about how Archie’s could remain in business without the usual commuters and coffee-craving customers.

She realized providing food and drink, along with the live music in the evening hours brought in consistent customers and paid the bills. “It’s fun for people to get out in this neighborhood and have somewhere to go, and not just sit across the table from each other and be like ‘So, this is crazy, huh?’ They’re like, ‘oh my gosh, look at that great band!’”

As the dining has been outside, Roberta is figuring out a plan to “winterize” the space, but she is “just trying to make the most of this time now before it gets too cold.”

Abby: You’ve done a great job at acting quickly with the weird circumstances of COVID.

Roberta: We just keep trying different things too, like well let’s try this and see if this works! You know, we’ll probably go back to doing the fridge, like stocking the fridge. And we are working on a website, so we can probably do take-out orders.

Abby: I’d love to contribute to that and get some food from here. It feels so homey getting food from here. (*chuckles*) So, what were your initial fears when you knew you’d have to close initially due to COVID?

Roberta: It was just so freaky. I know it was raining all that week, and it was my birthday, so it was just like aghh, why! It was just like shock, you know? It was the week of St. Patty’s day– and we were planning on doing this huge St. Patty’s day thing, so like, I came back on Saturday and I was like, Alright, I got a lot of cabbage, let’s just start there.

So, we made kimchi. Then we made lasagna, and I still didn’t even know that I was gonna put it in the fridge, I was just using the product. So I was just kinda like…letting it kind of reveal itself to me.

Everybody that came– they were so happy to have a place to get out of the house to go to. They were really grateful and appreciative, and really dedicated, and they’d come every week. And they’re like, ‘this is what we live for all week, just to see what you’re putting in the fridge this weekend.” So it was nice to be able to be some sort of distraction and source of comfort for people.

Abby: Yes, you have such a fanbase. I bet there were some people around here that were super disappointed…

Roberta: Yeah, and a lot of my regulars are students, and they were all gone, so I was like ‘who’s even gonna come?’ But it was the neighborhood, really, that turned out, maybe more than I had noticed them being so regular before. They came through, and they were here every weekend, and they still come–they come for dinners now.

Abby: What sources did you receive support from to help compensate for the loss in business during COVID?

Roberta: I did get a PPP loan, so that was helpful in–because the diminished hours and the diminished clientele–to still employ people.

Abby: What values do you want to continue to bring to the Rogers Park community?

Roberta: Yeah, the community space I really like bringing together. I want to continue to support it and foster that, with food, art, and music.

Abby: Those three things are very unifying. That’s what brings me to places–food, art, and music, and I know I’m not the only one. So, lastly, what advice would you give to small business owners just beginning their pursuit right now?

Roberta: Make sure you have an established online presence…

I think people are happy to have a place to go now, so if you can have a place that has your doors open and be welcoming on a limited capacity basis to people. To have a space to feel where we feel like we’re not completely…attached to our computers.

And just trying to remain calm in the face of the 2020 storm, y’know, to not react so quickly. Just try to let it–it’s hard to not just react–cause it changes, everything’s changing so much and so fast, and the ground is so unsteady. Take a deep breath…

Abby: and make some kimchi…

Roberta: And make some kimchi

Archie’s hours are from 5:00-11:00 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, so head up to Rogers Park if you want a fresh meal with some even fresher live music.

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