“The grant helped us stay open and keep our employees working.”Jesse Iniguez
Born and raised in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, Jesse opened Back of the Yards Coffee Company in 2016 with a mission to provide community members a safe space to come together. This kind of space, where people can share ideas and be inspired, is not something that Jesse had growing up. In fact, he didn’t learn what a coffee shop was until his freshman year of college when he stepped in to one for the first time.
Back of the Yards Coffee Company has truly become a community staple. Due to their location across the street from a school, the coffee shop is consistently bustling with students and teachers. In addition, the shop frequently hosts performances and events. “Coffee like beer, is social,” Jesse said. “Just like you meet people for a beer, you meet people for coffee, at times of the day when it’s not socially acceptable to have a beer.” Back of the Yards Coffee Company was greatly affected when the pandemic struck.
When the school across the street shifted to remote learning, the shop took a big hit. Jesse says that he misses the “life that our community brings to the space like the students congregating after school, the teachers getting their fuel in the morning, the important meetings people had, the couples having a date, or the friends meeting after not seeing each other for a long time.”
Fortunately, the community has responded with incredible support and Back of the Yards Coffee Company has been able to continue fulfilling pick-up and delivery orders. In April 2020, Jesse worked with Allies for Community Business to receive a grant through the Illinois Hospitality Emergency Grant Program. Allies for Community Business worked with the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity to administer $14 million in grants to over 700 restaurants, bars, caterers, and hotels.
Back of the Yards Coffee Company used the grant funds to keep their business open and employees working. “Even though the loss in revenue has affected us significantly, we made the decision early on that we would do whatever we could to stay open and keep our people employed,” Jesse said. “They are the biggest asset we have, and they are essential to maintaining our stability and allowing the business to weather the storm.”