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Meet Lee Corrina Cano of The Coffee Studio in Andersonville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lee Corrina Cano.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Lee Corrina. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Miguel and I (Lee) met in graduate school at the Institute of Design in Chicago. We both have backgrounds in design, strategy and sustainability, and in 2004 we founded Design Union, a product design consultancy. But we both wanted to create something that would be bigger than us and allow us to learn more about customer experience and business. Miguel had watched his parents, who were immigrants, open and grew various businesses and we both have strong independent streaks. We’ve also always had an intense love for all things simple and delicious, and after discovering the world of high-quality specialty coffee in 2004, it wasn’t long before we came up with our own plan to fill a niche for accessible, hand-crafted coffees in an authentic, warm-modern environment. At the time, there were only a handful of high-quality coffee options in Chicago and after doing a lot of research, brainstorming, dreaming and planning, we put together the financing and started searching for the perfect location all over the city (which ended up being a five-minute walk from our home!). It took us over two and a half exhausting years from when we first hatched the original plan in our living room late one night to when we finally opened The Coffee Studio in Andersonville in late 2007.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We’re sort of perfectionists, so there are always a million things that we are working on improving or evolving. And we invested our life savings into the business, so there has been plenty of work and stress involved, as we learned about all the millions of things that can, and do, go wrong. While there are maybe fewer emotional surprises these days, we still want to make sure we’re building a sustainable, enjoyable business, and not stretching ourselves too thin. And we want to make sure we’re still having fun. We’re also always working on figuring out what “work-life balance” means for us, as we think about our growth plans. The Coffee Studio was our first “baby”, but we now also have a six year old son, Max. So it feels like there’s just never enough time to get to everything we want to do.

And then, marketing! Right now, we’re actively trying to figure out how to tell our “story” better and think more about marketing as there is more and more competition out there. There’s been a lot of new activity in the specialty coffee industry here in Chicago, and we want to make sure that what we’ve doing here for years doesn’t get drowned out by the “new” in all the media/noise, especially since we’re not really the most extroverted people, or shop. I think we tend to just keep our heads down and do our thing… making great coffee, making people happy, and trying to do it a little better every day.

The Coffee Studio – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Coffee Studio is recognized for both its modern, design-conscious environment and elevated hand-crafted coffee drinks, and has become both a cherished morning routine for locals as well as a recognized travel destination for coffee lovers. We’re proud to have received a lot of local accolades, and in 2010, we were selected by Bon Appétit as one of the top ten boutique coffee shops in the country. We think that unlike other premium coffee shops, The Coffee Studio offers a warm, comfortable experience that make really high-quality coffees and teas more approachable and accessible for everyone.

In addition to premium coffee and teas served with house made syrups and sauces, we offer a curated selection of flatbreads, craft beers and wines, coffee and tea-based cocktails and more recently launched a small menu of house made ice creams, ice cream sandwiches and iced tea popsicles. It’s somewhat unusual that we make so many of our coffee shop ingredients/offering ourselves, but we have extremely high standards for flavor quality and integrity that are hard to find in “off the shelf” products. We not only make our own sauces and syrups, but also flavored schmears for our bagels and even our own “tiny-batch” ice cream flavors. They’re definitely worth trying.

We’re also proud to be an independent mom’n’pop shop as more and more coffee chains (La Colombe, Bow Truss, etc.) are rapidly expanding all over the country. Our neighborhood, Andersonville, is amazing, with a strong Swedish heritage, a diverse demographic including a thriving gay and lesbian community, and a recognized appreciation for locally-owned, independent businesses (including quite a few design-oriented lifestyle and home stores).

If you had to start over, what would you have done differently?
That’s a tough question. Of course there are a million things we’ve learned “the hard way”, but I don’t know if there’s any other way to learn that stuff. You can do all the research in the world, but you can’t plan for everything. We definitely took some big risks… there weren’t (and aren’t) any guarantees when you open a business, and you need to be okay with that. Being so financially invested caused us a lot of stress, and I don’t know if I would want to repeat those years.

That said, the rewards that we get from being a cherished part of our community are really amazing… the positive feedback we get from our customers feels great to us as the owners, but also to our staff who really takes pride in the work we do; when you walk in the door and hear and feel the buzz of conversations and the smells of delicious things; or just seeing the face of someone tasting an amazing coffee drink for the first time… like they didn’t know it could taste so good. That’s good stuff. And then we have always been big proponents of urbanism and walkable, thriving communities, and so we’re thrilled to not just live in this neighborhood but to have built a business that contributes to the thriving of local community. We love this city, and this neighborhood. It feels good to be a thriving part of it.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photographer: Nathan Michaels (except: Lee Corrina Cano… cafe view and exterior shot only)

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