Aisha and Kendall Griffin picked a curious time to open Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea. The cafe opened last year in the middle of the pandemic, so not everyone may know about their caramel lattes, breakfast sandwiches, and special pastries (called Afro Puffs) in Auburn Gresham. The roomy cafe — a breezy space thanks to a garage door window — hosts live music and displays work from local artists. It’s become a beacon along an otherwise quiet part of South Halsted Street where coffeeshops are hard to find.
The menu changes seasonally with items like avocado toast, salmon BLTs, and a dazzling selection of lemonades and iced teas that are all made on-premises. The South Side short-rib grilled cheese has also become a fan favorite. The beef is braised 24 hours in cola and served on sourdough.
Aisha Griffin has assembled a menu of her favorite things. Kendall Griffin is passionate about the espresso drinks, and they’re pumping out a variety of unique drinks (like a Cinnabon mocha). Together, the duo wanted a coffeeshop they could walk to from their home. Afro Joe’s has its own coffees with names that embrace Black Chicago: Harold Washington Blend is named for the city’s first Black mayor. DuSable Blend is named for the Black explorer credited as the city’s founder; he was Chicago’s first non-Indigenous settler. The bags are also for sale for home brewing.
However, this August has presented a challenge for ownership. They’ve had two burglaries in August with thieves taking cash from the register and breaking a window. They tell Block Club Chicago that they’re safe and called the break-ins “minor setbacks.”
Back in 2016, the city made a big deal of when Starbucks opened in Englewood, about two and a half miles north of Afro Joe’s, part of a neighborhood revitalization project that included a new Whole Foods. Starbucks workers said five years ago that the locals needed a coffeeshop and that they had the disposable income to make the shop successful. The same applies at Afro Joe’s, except this is an independent business owned by residents who live nearby. There’s a friendliness from staff that sets it apart from the large conglomerates.
A menu like this isn’t seen often in the neighborhood, something the Griffins acknowledge. The business is built upon providing a place where neighbors can meet. Those outside the community have also noticed — Kimski chef Won Kim and Rose Mary chef Joe Flamm are two of the cafe’s most well-known proponents, encouraging potential customers from other parts of the city to make a visit. Come check it out in person.
Afro Joe’s Coffee & Tea, 8344 S. Halsted Street, (773) 234-1308, open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.