Everybody’s Busy, a coffee concept brand and bar is the culmination of founder Melissa Stinson‘s wildest dreams. The Chicago-bred coffee connoisseur flipped her passion for brewing into a traveling creative space that centers hip-hop, her favorite genre of music. One might ask: why dive into the coffee industry, especially as a Black woman?
During different periods of her life, Stinson worked as a costume designer for Roll Bounce, Empire, and more. While her jobs constantly switched, coffee remained the constant in her life. But not just any coffee — coffee that she made for herself and her coworkers. For years in the television and film industry, she was known for dishing out a great brewed cup of joe on set.
Before jumping headfirst into opening up pop-ups, Stinson lived in Bedford Stuyvesant for five years. While in Bed-Stuy, she frequently visited coffee shops in the neighborhood known as a festering ground for creatives. She felt the shops had great energy and enjoyed their lattes and pour-overs, but always felt there was something missing during these experiences. This sparked an idea that she ran with: opening a culture-focused coffee shop in Chicago.
Once Stinson hit the ground running in 2016, she utilized her relationships and began organizing pop-ups with notable brands and storefronts. She collaborated with Showtime’s The Chi during their early tapings and teamed up with fashion and streetwear stores like Fat Tiger Workshop, Leaders 1354, and Sir & Madame. After making a name for herself in the coffee community in 2018, she officially began serving her signature pour-overs at a friend’s restaurant in Bronzeville — located in Chicago’s South Side — where she stayed for two years. Then, she set up shop in a space that belonged to a friend on 18th Street in Pilsen. This appeared to be going well until, after a year-and-a-half, the landlord was set on raising the rent. Fortunately, she found another space also on 18th Street.
Stinson has moved to three different locations over the course of the past four-and-a-half years, but that doesn’t make her impact any less profound. She’s built a loyal customer base and has cultivated what she calls “a human bodega” with her current space on 18th Street, connecting creatives, entrepreneurs, and others for in-person meetings.
On the inside of Everybody’s Busy, hip-hop plays an integral part to the brand — from the music that’s played and the artwork on display to even monthly music-themed menus paying homage to rap icons like Too Short, Snoop Dogg, and N.W.A. Since the space was previously a butcher shop, Stinson serves her “Drip of the Day” strictly with Oatly through a unique service window. She also currently has a collaboration with Onyx Coffee Lab roasters, which is sold each day with packaging emblazoned with Stinson’s bespectacled face.
“I’m really trying to give an experience; it’s not just about the coffee being great,” she shared on a Zoom call from her Chicago home. “It’s about the music, it’s about the menu and the energy that you just don’t get everywhere. It’s focusing on our culture.”
Okayplayer spoke with Stinson to hear from her firsthand what it was like to build her coffee concept brand from the ground up, and more.
How She Landed on the Name Everybody’s Busy
I was watching an episode of Seinfeld and George Costanza was walking down the street and he got into it with this guy and he’s like, “Ugh, everybody’s so busy.” [Then I came] up with the logo. I did it myself. [I] decided I wanted something that was very music-based. It was all about quality, but I wanted to be able to go somewhere — maybe 7:30 AM — and listen to poetry rap, or Gang Starr or MC Lyte.
On How She Decided to Lean Into the Coffee Space
I wanted to create something that was good, something I would go to, and something that I knew, especially in Chicago. There’s really no creative hub here because we’re all divided. There’s the race thing — it’s the money thing, the class thing.
My idea was to treat coffee just like music. I started doing pour overs and was super frazzled, but I had friends who had businesses and they were like, “Oh, you could come do a pop-up.” [I] started doing those — not the most successful because, as a Black woman playing hip-hop making coffee that takes four minutes, that really wasn’t a thing. Or, maybe I was just in the wrong space. But my point was also to be in a historic neighborhood, like Bronzeville, because a lot of people came out of Bronzeville. Music Row was down the street — all this history was there.
On Taking A Break During Her Unconventional Journey
I finally stopped doing [pop-ups] because I had a crazy case of anxiety. I was like, “This is not worth it.” I couldn’t get out of bed or anything [from doing the pop-ups]. [The anxiety was from] my expectations because I’ve never done pop-ups. I was taking 8-ounce cups, 10-ounce cups, 12-ounce cups, black tea, and green tea. I was taking all these things to have more options.
I was like, “OK, I’m not doing this.” I got a job working with Steve Harvey, but I always made coffee for everybody because the coffee was bad. Then, I started thinking about it again. I was like, “This is not where I want to be.” I would make coffee, just do little pop-ups here and there, and I was still trying to figure out how I was going to make this make sense.
My friend, Hebru [Brantley] of Hebru Brand Studios, [hired me as a product manager]. I had no idea how to do that. We just always liked [the same things] because I had known him for a while. [I] also made a lot of coffee there. We did pour overs and just different things because a lot of people are coffee heads there. When you’re an artist and you’re working for artists, that’s a hot mess because everybody’s all over the place, but I appreciated it. From that little time I spent there, I learned about where I can get stickers from, where I can get this from, where I can get that from. It basically helped raise my confidence, because I’m super bashful.
I decided [four to five months after leaving Hebru Brand Studios] that I needed to go to the New York Coffee Festival. I went back to New York just for that. I was trying to educate myself because [in Chicago] I couldn’t get any love. There [weren’t] any blacks in the coffee, and if there were, they just had regular coffee. They wanted the space, the atmosphere. It was just [that] I didn’t have any coffee friends, so I started trying to figure out Everybody’s Busy. I came up with the menu because a friend of mine had suggested, “Why don’t you just make a menu?”
On Building Her Brand
[I was inspired by Black music and] the Source magazine because, with hip-hop culture, jazz culture, funk culture, it’s all about taking nothing and making it into something. Then I decided to make my menu and I was like, “I’ll change it every month.” Eventually, a friend of mine was like, “Why don’t you come and use my space in the morning?” It was [a] french fry spot. I bought a machine; [I] had no idea how to use an espresso machine, no idea how to use a grinder, but I got it.
I started doing that and really slowly building my brand and using coffee as the conduit, using it as the anchor. I knew coffee wasn’t the main thing, but that was the way I could get myself out. And good coffee, it’s really not easy to find to me — where it doesn’t make your stomach hurt, the people care about the cream or the milk they use or the sugar, or the cups. Just the whole experience.
I started using Instagram because my account was maybe 300 people. I always took pictures of my sneakers and coffee way back in 2010, 2011, 2012. I started recording myself making coffee and listening to music, and it’d be 7:30 AM. I slowly started to grasp people who were interested.
Then, I started buying up these different coffees. I have no idea how I was able to afford this but I was doing it. Buying these different coffees and it would be the “Drip of the Day.” I had something in the espresso machine and then I had my “Drip of the Day.” I had all this equipment and I was just doing it organically. There was nothing to it.
On Cultivating Community In The Chicago Coffee Scene
I’m sure I’ve inspired quite a few people because I’ve been told that. But pioneering is not always great because it’s the next generation that gets the accolades. What I’ve been doing is also building the community here where, instead of being competitive, let’s be [a] collective. People who just started coffee shops — there’s a lot of husband-and-wife teams and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do.” I’ve put us all on a thread and we’ve met. If we want to do collaborations or somebody wants to do a pop-up, it’s just that support because we don’t have that here, and I want that to trickle down to other industries.
1745 W 18th Street
Chicago, IL 6060
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