Welcome to Pour Over This, an informal dive into the minds behind the wholesale partners of Metropolis Coffee.
Eleazar Delgado opened Cafe Jumping Bean back in 1994 and has become a staple in the Pilsen community with two locations and a third opening soon. Jessi DiBartolomeo, customer service extraordinaire for Metropolis Coffee, sat down with him to discuss his journey and place in the Pilsen community.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jessi DiBartolomeo: Tell me about Cafe Jumping Bean’s mission statement.
Eleazar Delgado: We’re a community hub, we’re a place where people meet, discuss the future, and people count on us being here every day. This is where they stop before they go to work. We provide to the community service and a product that is quality and affordable, and that’s really key for me that things be affordable because we want to serve everyone.
What were you doing before this? Were you always in coffee?
No, before this I worked for seven years at Bloomingdale’s as an operations manager. After I left them I got pretty fed up, and I decided to be a bike messenger for a year. Total change. People say, whoa how do you go to an operations manager to a bike messenger? I did it because my brother was doing it and said, hey, you enjoy riding, come and bike with me. I did it for a year until I got into an accident that took me out and fractured my arm, my wrist, my hand, I had torn ligaments, and I couldn’t ride long distances like that any more. Took a break, and this idea came up, the coffee shop.
I’m sure the skills you learned from running operations at Bloomingdale’s translate no matter where you are.
That was a big help. When I was a teengaer I worked in fast food restaurants and that experience was also helpful. My family was always on me to open a restaurant, and I love to cook. Since I was 11, I was in the kitchen cooking with my mom, but I didn’t want to do a restaurant because I thought it was too crazy or too much for me. [After being a bike messenger] I was 26 years old, I was a little scared, but I said I’ll do a coffee shop.
Tell me about the Eleazar of 25 years ago. What was important to you and why?
25 years ago when I opened this place what was important was bringing quality coffee to the neighborhood and bringing something different. The neighborhood didn’t have anything like this, we were the first coffee shop in Pilsen, first coffee shop south of Division. We came with the idea of serving sandwiches, coffee and pastries. People thought it was crazy. People were saying we’re not going to make it, selling pastries and coffee, this is a Mexican neighborhood. But I worked hard, hard, hard and said I was going to make it happen. People really got used to the idea of quality coffee and making a regular stop every day here and that was a big part of it.
How would you describe the coffee scene in your neighborhood now versus 25 years ago when there was nothing south of Division?
Now it’s a very vibrant scene with all kinds of people coming in here; grade school kids, college aged kids, all kinds of professionals, cops, construction workers. It’s real lively from the time we open at 6:00 am until 9:00 at night. There’s people out and about because now there’s more things to do in Pilsen. Back when I opened, there wasn’t as much, and when we used to open it was very quiet, when we closed at night it was a ghost town, but I was young and I had nothing else to do, so I thought might as well stay open. I was pulling 140 hours a week and this is where I lived and I worked, so I said why close. Now you see this big vibrant community with a big mix of people and it’s a lot of fun because it’s a walking neighborhood.
What do you think has changed the most since you first opened?
The biggest change I see is the diversity. Pilsen is going through a lot of changes, good and bad, but I have to stay on the positive side of it because we’ve survived 25 years. I’m able to employ at the original location alone 16 people and our second location employs another eight. All the employees here are local residents, so that says a lot to me about the neighborhood changing and me going with it and not leaving it behind; we went along with the change and kept going. It was important to me to offer a quality product at a good and fair price because the neighborhood’s changing, but it hasn’t changed completely. We still have kids and come in and ask, hey how much is this cookie, and I’m able to say it’s not $4, it’s $2. You can still buy it. It’s really changed and it’s from night and day 25 years ago to now. It’s a vibrant community, there’s a lot of things going on, it’s good, it’s a good thing.
How did the second location come about?
All locations happened overnight. The idea came into my head, you need a coffee shop here on 18th Street. I saw the space, spoke to the owner of the building, and that very day I agreed to the space and so did she. For the second location at the train stop, I was driving by one day and saw it vacant. I knew the old owners before who owned a juice bar. I was with a friend and I said oh my God, they didn’t make it, which is too bad. It’s going to become a Dunkin Donuts. Before I made it two blocks, my friend said, well, why don’t you do something about it? A light clicked in my head and I did a u-turn. I said you know what, you’re right. Took down the information, called the CTA, you have to go through the bidding process, and I won the bid. I couldn’t believe it when they called me to tell me I won the bid.
What role do you think CJB plays in Pilsen?
We play a big role. We’re here seven days a week, so we’re here every day for the people because they rely on this place. They need a place to stop in before work. It’s giving back to the community, everything from a local church group that needs coffee for an event, to sponsoring a little league team or chess club, a lot of events for the neighborhood, Museum of Mexican Art, or even a regular customer who might be running in the Chicago Marathon that needs a raffle prize, we’re always giving back. It’s important. Because as much as you take in from the neighborhood, you need to give some of that back, It’s not just me, me, me. Every day I tell my staff, listen, this place is crowded not just because we serve great coffee, but it’s what we do on the back scene. It’s important for me to give back to this neighborhood because it is a community. It’s a great feeling that I can walk outside and go to my bank and say hi to at least 10 people.
What do you like the most personally about CJB?
The people. I’ve been walking through that door 25 years. People will ask me how have I not gotten bored. I have friends that have switched jobs 2-5 times, and I’m still here. And I walk in with a smile on my face. I was behind that bar for 23 years, up until El Cafectio at the train station opened up, that’s when I left being behind the bar. I miss it but i’m doing something different now.
It’s providing a service to this community and a product that’s quality. I never hire anybody based on experience, I hire on their character. What are you bringing to the cafe? I can teach anybody how to make a latte or wash dishes, but what are you gonna bring to the cafe to make it unique? And that’s what all these guys do. It’s something to see the difference here at 18th Street and the train station. They have their own vibe. We’ll see what the third one will bring, it’ll be a little different with a kitchen, so we’ll be doing a lot of different stuff.
People ask why open a third location, again in pilsen? Why not? If the second and first ones are doing great, we’re going to cover another end of Pilsen, we’re serving more of the community. If you ever come on a weekend here it’s insane, but fun. I’ll pull up on a Saturday morning and it’s packed, luckily I can sneak in through the back door.
Why is it important for you to be hands in everything and be present?
You gotta know what you’re doing, and that’s how I got to know this place so well that with anything that happens here, a manager can pick up a phone and call me and I can tell them exactly what to do to fix it. I worked 140 hours a week here for 15 years. I know every inch of this place. I know it like the back of my hand. One thing that’s unique about my store is that there is an extremely low turnover; for my managers, the lowend is 12 years and the high end is 20 years, so I can leave them alone and they know how to run the place. And why? Because I trained them in it. I trained everyone on everything from making food to washing dishes to being a barista. There was no part of this job that I don’t know how to do. Want to throw me back there? I know how to work that machine. It’s a lot of fun being here and being involved. And people like to see me.
I got to start off slow and learned everything as I went. When we opened, this place was packed opening night back on January 3, 1994. It was a great opening, and then the bottom fell out. I was twiddling my thumbs watching people walk by every day, but I just kept at it and I built experience by working the espresso machine, washing dishes, waiting tables, making food, doing it all. People appreciate the fact that I’m still here and and they know I’m very much involved in the everyday process of the cafe. They see me hustling and working seeing the owner not sitting back in some corner kicking back relaxing, I’m doing everything I can to keep this place going and to make sure people see what we do.
To 25 more years.
To 25 more years!
To 50 more years!
Hopefully I have some long leases.