Alejandro Serrano packages coffee for Cafe Chicago at the Albany Park Workers' Center. Credit: Andrea Bauer

Coffee fuels the sleep deprived—and the livelihood of Cafe Chicago. Founded by the Latino Union of Chicago in 2010 and headquartered at the Albany Park Workers’ Center, Cafe Chicago is the city’s only worker-made, worker-owned, and worker-operated cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes fair-trade coffee, with over 40 local businesses stocking the beans (Heartland Cafe, Lupito’s Juice Bar, Bucktown Market, etc).

The concept for Cafe Chicago sparked when the Latino Union became aware of the increasing amount of wages being stolen from immigrant day laborers, many of whom were being compensated below the hourly minimum wage. It took nearly a year and a half of planning, but once Cafe Chicago was established, its mission was to improve the social and economic conditions for low-income immigrant workers.

Initially, the co-op produced and sold about 40 pounds of fresh coffee per week, but that total has since grown to about 200 pounds. Packages range from $7 to $15 for eight-, 12-, or 16-ounce sizes, with profits helping create living-wage jobs and support various Latino Union social justice projects.

Co-op members often come from manual-labor backgrounds with little if any knowledge about the ins and outs of coffee science. Simply put, there’s a learning curve. Currently the staff consists of five part-time employees and a rotating cast of volunteers, who spend eight hours each week roasting at a location near Chicago and Western and four hours packaging at the Workers’ Center. Deliveries happen on Fridays.

The cooperative hopes to open up its own coffee shop someday and perhaps expand into different neighborhoods.