By Sandra Trevino for Chicago Voz
“I don’t want us to just be a business in the community… I want us to be part of the community.” – La Parada in Pilsen
Loacted at the corner of 2059 W. 21st Street, La Parada en Pilsen is buzzing with lively conversation as I walk in on a brisk Tuesday evening. A DJ to the right of the entrance is playing some dance floor hits and patrons of all ages are either engaged in conversation or entertained with a book, homework or a laptop. The atmosphere is welcoming and brings back memories of poetry nights from years ago at La Decima Musa, Cafe Sol and at monthly Proyecto Latina events. The vibe is also chill with a sense of excitement. This is La Parada in Pilsen.
There are plenty of spaces to sit and get cozy in this new neighborhood shop, whether you stroll in solo or with others. A huge chalk menu on the wall indicates all sorts of foodie favorites. From sandwiches made with torta bread to salads, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.
Tonight is also open mic night, a weekly event held on Tuesdays from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. and there’s an electric energy in the space coming from the performers and their supporters.
I’m visiting with the owners, who also happen to be sisters, July and Joanna Miranda. We sit near the counter at one several tables, sipping on fresh agua de sandia, and talk about the coffee shop and how things have developed since the opening.
Chicago Voz: How long have you been open?
July Miranda: We’ve been open for a few months and it’s been going well. We’re always adding more things, adding different events, and trying new things out.
CV: How did the idea for La Parada in Pilsen come about?
July: Originally we wanted to do a cafe because there’s nothing on this side of Pilsen or in Cicero where we used to work. We thought about opening something in Cicero first and we looked for about five months. When we couldn’t find a place we decided to move to Costa Rica. But, one day Joanna saw the ‘for rent’ sign outside this building so we decided to call and when the landlord gave us the price we knew we could work with that. We also thought, if it doesn’t stick we can always try something else. The location is great and we knew we could do something here.
CV: Where does that sense of entrepreneurship come from?
Joanna: I definitely got it from my dad. Growing up, he always had a furniture store or a little grocery store so I always thought I wanted to do something like that. After I got my bachelor’s I knew I wanted to open my own business so I told my sister, ‘let’s be our own boss.’
July: I have an undergrad in business management, and my master’s in special education, so I had the managerial skills background. Also, I had been teaching for eight years and I wanted to see where else I could use my skills. I thought, ‘It’s not that hard! Let’s do it!’
CV: What has been the neighborhood’s reaction?
July: It’s been great! Strangers have been coming in wishing us luck and neighbors have offered help. People come in here and say it’s a very chill spot and that was the point of making this place. We didn’t want people to just come in, order their stuff, and leave. We want you to come in and relax or have a meeting and bring your friends.
Joanna: Yes, neighbors have come in to offer help with menus, flyers and events so we do get a lot of help from the community.
Although they initially had a bit of trouble obtaining beans for their coffee making, they were eventually able to work with a local purveyor, Sparrow Coffee Roastery, who took a chance on them that nobody else would. “Nobody else would help us when it came to the beans,” says July. “But finally, Sparrow came in and said they believed in us.”
While we take a moment to enjoy our fruit water, I notice how different each wall is. Although they’re all similar in their burst of bright colors, they each contain handmade pieces and one-of-a-kind images.
CV: What is the concept behind some of the artwork on the walls?
Joanna: I happened to be on Craigslist just being nosy and looking at different rentals in the area when I saw a photo of this room for rent with a beautiful mural in the background. I contacted them, not about the room but about the mural. Once I got the artist’s information, he came in and we explained what we wanted, especially the main mural in the middle, which was to focus on Pilsen’s hardworking people and what better way to do it than with a paletero.
There’s also the little things in the painting like my sister’s dog who passed away and the house in the background which is the house I used to live in when I was 15, over by Damen. Basically it shows where we’ve lived in Pilsen most of our lives.
CV: How have recent changes in Pilsen affected you?
July: You know, one of the magazines shared our page and someone commented “Oh, is it white owned?” and my reaction is why does it matter? We want to be part of the community regardless of what nationality anybody is.
Joanna: People are upset with new changes but we’re getting a lot of support from those same people. They come in and tell us they love supporting neighborhood businesses.
CV: How do you make people understand the importance of supporting their neighborhood businesses?
July: They need to know we’re not here to make money to get rich or become millionaires. We just want to be able to pay our bills and live. When you go to a corporate coffee shop, you’re paying for a third vacation home. People need to realize the difference between supporting a corporation and supporting a local business. And, people can have many ideas on how to make the neighborhood better but unless you’re out there doing something to make it better you’re not going to see results.
Joanna: I support our local businesses and stay in the neighborhood when I go out to eat. I’ve seen how we’ve been helped by the community and I want to help back the community.
We end the conversation on a high note as I look around to see so many young people gathered to take their turn on the microphone whether to recite a heart-felt poem or to sing a song. In addition to their weekly Tuesday open mic, the cafe hosts a once-a-month open mic night on the last Friday of the month.
“Before we had this night and heard so many people on the mic, we didn’t really realize how much talent we’re surrounded by. It’s been great.” says July.
Investing in the community where they were raised is key to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Miranda sisters. They’ve managed to carve out a space for neighborhood unity through community arts engagement and healthy, locally-sourced and organic delectable treats.
If you’re in the mood to join an open mic, or meet others in the area, make a visit to this new neighborhood cafe offering more than just coffee.
La Parada in Pilsen
2059 W. 21st Street
Chicago, IL 60608