Cafe Mustache plucks out prime real estate


Photo Courtesy of Kelly Wenzel

Cafe Mustache plucks out prime real estate

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Logan Square’s Cafe Mustache, a popular music venue that also serves as a restaurant and coffee shop, will soon be able to host larger audiences for its live events.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Cafe Mustache, 2313 N. Milwaukee Ave., will expand its business by taking over an adjacent salon, which will create a bigger performance area for live acts.

Ralph Darski, co-owner and music and events coordinator, said the cafe is a venue for many events that include hosting local bands and film screenings. A musician himself, Darski said he is excited for the expansion because it will help bring in new live acts.

“Now there’s going to be this space where [Cafe Mustache is] never going to charge for the shows, and the artists will get paid off the bar, and we’ll take donations at the door,” Darski said. “It’s not just bands. We also have screenings, storytelling or pretty much if anyone in the neighborhood has a cool idea, we’re going to do it.”

According to Darski, the new expansion area will double the floor space, making room for more local artists such as those included in the store’s new event series called Cafe Mustache Presents. A full bar will also be added. In addition to alcohol, another aspect of Cafe Mustache that sets it apart from other coffee shops is the way their featured artists are compensated for his or her sales.

“It’s all priced by the artists, so we don’t take a cut of it,” Darski said. “Whatever they want to sell it for, that’s what they get.” 

With the help of the cafe’s Kickstarter campaign, the store managed to raise approximately $20,000. Kerry Couch, one of the cafe’s co-owners, said she was unfamiliar with Kickstarter before turning to the public funding website in June 2013. 

“I had actually never heard of Kickstarter before the project, but a friend recommended it,” Couch said. “We set up a project and had a great response from our community, both locally and from distant donations, which was great.”

The money raised by the campaign partially covered the funding for the expansion, according to Couch. The cafe is currently working with contractors and trying to get permits.

“In a lot of ways, working with the city takes a lot of time,” Couch said. “It’s really detrimental for small business owners who can’t afford to hire individuals to go wait in all the lines and fill out all the paperwork to have to do that all ourselves.”

Although live events are part of the cafe’s image, Darski says Cafe Mustache is a coffee shop first. After working in other local Chicago coffee shops, the owners decided to open up their own cafe and brand it the way they wanted. That includes coffee from a local roastery, plenty of vegan-based menu items and humorously personal store name, Darski said.

“The name was kind of a joke because all three of our dads had mustaches growing up,” Darski said. “But it’s weird because right when we opened, the whole mustache craze kind of just happened. We’ve got our own style and our own quirky vibe.”

Couch said the coffee shop gives performers and customers an authentic hangout space that other businesses do not always provide. 

“Businesses that utilize the underground art culture do not always come from the same place as us, which is that we exist in it and we love it and it’s something that we’ve always done ourselves,” Couch said.

According to Darski and Couch, Cafe Mustache was founded based on the idea of the underground artistic culture they and co-owner James Stieglitz grew up with. 

“We all come from an underground local art and music background,” Couch said. “I come from visual arts and Ralph comes from performing arts, so we wanted to begin the business to have a venue for musicians and artists.”

The cafe has also created a strong relationship with Bridgeport Coffee Company, the Chicago-based roastery that supplies Cafe Mustache. Mike Pilkington, president of Bridgeport Coffee Company, said his relationship with the cafe has evolved since it opened in 2009.

“They were youngsters from the [Lincoln Park coffee shop] Bourgeois Pig, who wanted to do their own thing, so when they opened the place, we helped them out,” Pilkington said. “They started out inexperienced and made it their own. They’ve found a nice spot.”