As Starbucks closes, Chicago black-owned coffee shop opens up racial discourse

CHICAGO — The controversy that caused Starbucks to close all of its stores Tuesday afternoon is also creating a push for people to patronize black-owned coffee shops, while creating an opportunity for racial dialogue.

After all, if someone asks you to have a cup of coffee, they may as well be asking you to have a conversation. If that someone is Trez van Pugh you just may find some common grounds, even if you talking about one of the most touchy topics: race relations.

Van Pugh is a Marine veteran who opened the coffee shop Sip & Savor on the South Side, built on the idea of gourmet coffee and positive vibes. The shop itself encourages direct dialogue, along with its motto: "Where coffee and community meet."

“Listening is an acquired skill," Van Pugh said. “You may not agree with everything, but you’ll understand it. It’s hard for a white person to say to a black person: ‘I know what you’re going through.’”

The experience of many black men in this country has come into sharp focus after Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23-year-olds, who met at a Starbucks to discuss a real estate opportunity. They were waiting for a friend to arrive and hadn’t ordered anything yet. They were asked to leave and eventually arrested.

“I was just glad it got on film because that’s normal. You walk around, the one thing we can’t do is change our skin color. So those things are not out of the norm. It’s just part of what we go through," Sip and Savor regular Phillip Beckham said.

Ingrid Isaacs was working at Sip & Savor one recent morning, and described feeling a level of fear watching the Philadelphia incident.

"It’s like a second thought now. Before it was, ‘Oh, I’ll just go in here and have a seat for a second – just to kill time if you’re on your way somewhere" Isaacs said. "So it does make you think twice or maybe three times that something could happen just from me sitting there.”

Cyndee Langly was the only white customer in this South Side shop at the time we WGN was there.

"We can ignore those things, but that’s part of our privilege. I don’t have to be aware of that. But if I don’t speak out as a white person, I’m just reinforcing all of those things,” Langly said.

She says white people should speak up and intervene if they see racial discrimination, but so often they do nothing.

"I think it’s easier to be oblivious sometimes – even though that’s way worse, and I think it just continues to make it worse," Langly said.

Starbucks has apologized for the incident, and closed all of its 8,000 stores to conduct racial sensitivity training Tuesday. The coffee shop controversy also sparked a push to patronize black-owned coffee shops.

"I don’t want to be known as a black coffee house owner. I want to be known as a coffee house owner that so happens to be African-American," Van Pugh said. "But I realize I may have an opportunity to get those otherwise loyal Starbucks customers when they shut down, to come in and see what we offer.”

"I felt bad for Starbucks, because that could have been me. One of my employees could have a bad day, say something weird, something happens and somebody videotapes it. They’re not going to say that lady did something bad – they’re going to say that place ‘Sip & Savor is rude,' or 'They don’t know how to treat people,'” Van Pugh said.