Popular mobile coffee bar Southside Grinds sets up shop in Boxville Marketplace
Ebony Blue’s mobile coffee bar Southside Grinds will have a grand opening ceremony Saturday at the Bronzeville enterprise hub.
Underneath the 51st Street Green Line viaduct sits a group of colorful shipping containers. Music blares as people wander up to the containers or sit at patio tables near the street.
This is Boxville Marketplace, an “enterprise hub” featuring entrepreneurs in the creative, food and beverage markets.
This weekend, Ebony Blue’s coffee bar Southside Grinds joins the hub of food trucks, athletic shops and leadership teams at the marketplace. Southside Grinds was created in 2014 after Blue moved to Chicago from the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn.
“I was really lonely and just by myself here in Chicago, and I remember coming down to the South Side and riding my bike and stumbling upon Sip and Savor,” Blue said.
When she walked into the Bronzeville coffee shop, it was the first time since moving that Blue felt “so welcome and so warm.”
“I remember saying to myself, “I want other people to feel this way; I want to make sure that other people can connect and feel grounded in new spaces.”’
It was then that Southside Grinds was born with a mission to spread love and caffeine across the South Side.
For Blue, operating on the South Side was imperative — not only was it the first place she felt welcomed, but it reminded her of her Brooklyn roots.
“There’s something to places like this,” she said. “There’s so much history here. There’s so much richness here in terms of culture.”
But even though the idea for the coffee shop was brewing, it took another five years before it came to fruition.
In 2019, Blue participated in Sunshine Enterprises, a program that helps budding entrepreneurs start their business. She started roasting productions in December and in August turned Southside Grinds into a mobile coffee bar. She’s traveled to events around the city — even to the Taste of Chicago’s pop up in Pullman this year.
But the goal has always been to have a café. Blue started placing applications for spaces, starting with Boxville. She wasn’t hearing back, though. So she threw herself into her mobile espresso bar, and it paid off. The community organization Build Bronzeville took notice of her work and, soon after, Blue was signing a lease with Boxville at 330 E. 51st St.
Now, Blue is preparing for her grand opening on Saturday. A ribbon-cutting ceremony starts at 11:30 a.m. before festivities and a DJ pop-up from noon to 4 p.m. Southside Grinds’ signature drinks like Southside Sunset Lemonade and Sugar Mama Latte will be available.
Blue will be joined by her mom, who flew in from New York for the grand opening, and Carter Bobb-Willis of Minor Figures, who provides Southside Grinds’ oat milk.
“I was inspired by Ebony because I’ve seen her hustle and grind starting from the cart - and now opening up the shop. It’s great to see,” Bobb-Willis said.
Bobb-Willis worked in a roastery for seven years, and on Saturday he hopped behind the counter once again to help out. Blue she’s grateful for the help since she was never classically trained as a barista.
After Saturday’s grand opening, Southside Grinds will be open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Southside Grinds is hiring at $15 an hour; those interested can apply through its website, www.southsidegrinds.com. Community members can still expect to see Blue from time to time as she continues her mobile coffee bar work.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.