Step in. Take in the smell of incense burning. Some fresh ground Onyx coffee. A curated Spotify playlist or record spinning. This is much more than a pop-up—Everybody's Busy is an installation, a creative cross-section fusing music, coffee, and art.
Everybody’s Busy is a concept coffee bar by Melissa Stinson located on the near south side in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Formerly located in Boxville Marketplace, a community-focused small business incubator located in Bronzeville, before moving to a shared space with Definitive Selection, a streetwear boutique, Stinson is preparing now to set up a year-long installation at 1745 West 18th Street—she'll open the weekend of July 3rd. In advance of this weekend's opening Sprudge reporter Erix Perez spoke with Stinson across a series of interviews, paired with photos from her most recent installation. Everybody's Busy fans can watch the brand on Instagram for updates.
Erix Perez: Hey Melissa! Starting off, is everybody, in fact, busy?
Melissa Stinson: I don’t know if everyone is really busy. I think it’s a matter of priorities.
So are those priorities what inspired the name for it?
It’s more of an idea of like…everyone’s not busy. I was watching an old episode of Seinfeld, which is my favorite, and George Costanza is walking down the street and ran into this character that Jon Lovitz was playing and was like, “oh man, you didn’t tell me you had cancer” and [Jon Lovitz] is like, “oh yeah, blah blah blah blah blah” and it really came down to, like—everybody’s so busy. You couldn’t let me know that you had cancer. So it’s like, no, you’re not really that busy, you know?
You do what you want to do. I know I do what I want to do. So, it's kind of like a joke when I say, “everyone’s so busy.”
So, what you wanted to do was make coffee for people?
Yeah, because I would see people in line, including myself, and, I’m like, I thought everybody was so in a rush and so busy but your waiting like 15-20 minutes, maybe longer, for a cup of coffee. But you’re in such a rush, and you have this time, and you can multitask. There’s a phone and you can take pictures, you can send emails, and you can do all these things right there while you wait but you don’t do them. But you’re waiting for this coffee. So it was kind of that thing but the juxtaposition of, “Oh, okay.”
I really started to enjoy coffee since I was a little girl. I grew up around it and my great grandmother and grandmother used to have international coffee by Maxwell House and I was always like, this is really cute cuz it’s not the Folgers can but in this cute little container with countries on it. So, I kind of had a love affair with coffee and then when I started working in the TV and film industry, coffee of course was part of coffee, water, alcohol, and drugs. So when I started at 5:00 am in the morning I wanted something warm and comforting. Something hot.
So, I was living in New York and I found this cute little place and they had a space that was serving Parlor and it was really good. Even though New York is huge I still couldn't find a really great cup of coffee that worked for me. There were a couple places around but this was only nine blocks away from me so I started going there all the time and that’s when I came up with the idea. I wanted to have a space, have a product, make sure I can perfect the product and all these other things that just started. Fusing music and art and just everything I’m about but also just pouring you a cup of coffee. It just came together. So I decided to move back home to Chicago in 2014 and began that journey learning to do pour-overs and I started seeing all these different coffee companies popping up and I’m like, jeez that’s a lot of coffee companies. Well, I gotta try it. It’s like music, you can’t listen to the same album over and over again.
What have the last few months been like for you?
I guess it's sort of a blessing that I do not own an actual space! I don't know if I would still be in business. I was able to, you know everything shut down and I was shut down too. I was closed for all of March and half of April and started trickling in a couple of days here and there. Days where it felt like you could wear a mask and be careful. but I was down for like six weeks.
The effect was that everything shut down. I have a pop-up business and I was able to pop up, shut it down, move across the street to a flower shop for a little while. My situation was kind of a blessing.
I'm an owner-operator, you know? It's just me! I can send myself home. I can say, “let's try it today.” We're in stage four in Chicago right now, and by around stage two, I felt like I could come back with a mask on and things would be ok. You know, obviously COVID hurt my business but I was also somewhat steady, and I was able to pick back up and go to a new space, first to the flower shop and now to this new space. It's in a little bit of a different part of Pilsen, which means I get to start collecting new customers.
What is that new space like? And how would you describe this part of Chicago for people who don't know it?
There are a lot of creatives crossing paths in my space. It's like a kind of magic that happens, relationships bloom, and it comes from the trust over me making coffee. A lot of my customers aren't even coffee drinkers at first, but it's a learning process—and I'm learning, too. I don't think I know everything I'm just passionate about it, I'm just doing me. And it's a contribution to the neighborhood. I think people should drink good coffee. I think it should be an option.
My new spot is used to be a butcher shop, and I'm doing coffee like in the meat locker. We'll have a very similar set up to the old space, serving Onyx coffee and doing our thing. Pilsen has a very local feel to it, and it's been very welcoming to me, you know, especially since it was kind of a coffee desert when we opened. People have been so open and supportive—every little store on the block, the nail salon, the barbershop. The flower shop across the street let me come across the street pop-up for a month while I was still looking for my space. Pilsen is really like a village, like a little town in itself. And it's up and coming, you know, there's a lot of gentrification going on and so there's coffee, but it's local, and I'm not doing local coffee. You know what I'm saying? It's more of an experience. We are a one-woman set-up and I am really quality focused. I use Dona Chai, Onyx, Rishi—I use different things just to have this kind of quality experience. I'm not cheap with my product.
You're a Chicago company—why do you use a roaster like Onyx from out of town?
I like to say it's like when Kanye signed with The Roc. I signed with Onyx. In the early days Bear [Soliven] would reach out, say hey, send samples, and I liked their branding. I would try different coffees back at my earlier space, but Onyx was consistently good and I felt like, you know, this is perfect. I want to try this company, I want to try just having one coffee, creating this space, and not having to worry about who I’m gonna try next.
Coffee is very complex for lots of people and it’s actually helping me understand people a little better because now I’m getting them from a different angle. In my film career, I used to dress people, and now I'm serving them coffee and they have to trust me. They’re paying for that.
They had to trust you with how you’d dress them and now it translates to what you’re serving them as well.
Putting it in their body instead of on their body, but I just believe in it. I believe in me and I believe in the brand.
A lot of what you’ve built up with Everybody’s Busy is its brand. Could you tell me a little about those branding choices?
So, basically, how that started, I had all this creativity just lingering, sitting around, and music is really my number one love and though I don’t play an instrument I have an ear and so I used to make mixtapes when I was a little girl and sell them at the salon. I would just make them to tell a story, or for boyfriends, you know, whatever reason. I wanted to fuse the two loves and bring awareness. I wanted to use Source magazine loosely as a format for each month. So an espresso might be a Big Daddy Kane, a drip might be a Biz Markie, a latte might be a Queen Latifa cuz it also brings awareness, makes it fun, and it’s not very snobbish. You may not know who they are but then you wonder, who are these people? Why is she putting so much into this name this month then you go home and go, “oh, this is who that is” or “I’ve heard this before I didn’t know this was that person.” So, it kind of makes you think and get more than just a cup of coffee. It’s also to pay homage to a lot of greats that we just don’t do enough. Hip-Hop is just one genre. You’ve got jazz, bebop, rock. It’s pop culture. I just wanted to start with hip-hop. Earlier this year I featured bebop, paying homage to Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie. So I try to make it fun and keep it moving. I didn’t want it to be your average coffee experience.
I wanted you to come in. You smell incense. You see the menu. You’re thinking. You’re trusting me. You’re getting all these different levels. So you’re having an experience when you come in here.
Hip-Hop is not just music. It very much is a movement and a culture. So for instance, me taking an idea and making it into something. That’s what hip-hop is. You’re taking nothing and making it into something and I’m still making something but this literally was just a random idea. I just showed up every day for myself. You have to jump off that bridge. Here you don’t know what you’re gonna get but the coffee is going to be good. That coffee has to be on point because if it’s not then I want you to give it back to me. I can’t serve shit.
So, like, keeping that fun in how the menu changes.
Yeah, or like stickers or you might want to buy a t-shirt or might want to take a mugshot or you might want to buy a mug. You might like my playlist which I have on Spotify or you might like me on Instagram or you might not. But you have all these different options to not to like me but to include me.
Part of that conversation that is happening right now in coffee is inclusion. What are some ways to see more of that representation in your opinion?
You just do it. You just make it. A lot of this stuff I’m just doing for myself and people are just buying into it. I’m here. I want that coffee to be great and I want that product to be great. It’s necessary. Music and coffee go hand in hand to me, for me, and not for everybody. You may not want to hear Ice Cube at 7 o’clock. I don’t know but that coffee needs to be on point.
So how can more people find out about you?
I have a Twitter, which I’m rarely on because Twitter is just really wordy, super wordy, and I’m busy. I don’t have time to be typing up what I’m doing today. The website is just the website. Instagram is your number one source besides coming to see me. That’s all I can say. You’re gonna see pictures but you can meet the person in real life and it’s two different things but it’s really similar. It’s really close.
I’m trying to create that bridge from the east to the west to the midwest. We’re out here, and some of us take it seriously, some of us don’t. Some of us wear sneakers, some of us don’t. It’s a lifestyle. That’s really what Everybody’s Busy is all about. It’s a lifestyle brand and coffee is just that extra something.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I would just tell people to focus on you. Really, just focus on you. That’s how I feel about this. It’s not for everybody and that’s okay. COVID was basically a pause. Nothing has really changed, it's just now you have to adjust and stay focused.
Erix Perez is a Chicago-based journalist, photographer, and coffee professional. Read more Erix Perez on Sprudge.