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Same grind, new city for former DeKalb coffee shop owner

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Yvonne Boose
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Jeff Foster and Jack Crest standing outside of Common Grounds Coffee, Tea & Smoothies

The new location was a former juicery and café.

Coffee is known for giving people a physical boost, but one northern Illinois business owner is hoping his new coffee shop location becomes a place that uplifts souls and jolts creativity.

Sounds of hot steam and grinding coffee beans accompanied the smell of sweet confections at the Sycamore coffee shop’s grand opening this month.

Artist Jeff Foster opened Common Grounds Coffee in downtown DeKalb in 2016. Foster relocated this summer. He changed the name to Common Grounds Coffee, Tea & Smoothies. The new location was a former juicery and café.

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Yvonne Boose
Jeff Foster making drinks for customers

Foster said the original coffee shop was a resource for artists, but he wanted to expand his vision.

“And recognize that our coffee shop has been for the past five years, not just the coffee shop, it's always been a little bit more,” he added. “And, you know, from my beginning ideas, I wanted to incorporate art and music, and books.”

Foster said the new location may also help bring in more customers from around northern Illinois.

“After looking at my books, bookkeeping and everything, I realized that we have a lot of customers who are not in DeKalb,” Foster said. “They're coming from places like Sycamore, Genoa, Kingston, you know, Rockford and Aurora. So, it doesn't really matter where we go at this point and so I think we're at home here.”

Dale Brown Jr. is an alumnus of Northern Illinois University. He lives in Durham, North Carolina but came back to celebrate the school’s homecoming this weekend. Brown said Foster’s first coffee shop became like a second home.

“So, I started to be a regular then I met Jeff. I didn’t even know Jeff until like a couple months in and I really liked him,” Brown explained. “I loved his vision. I love his creativity. I love how he just cares about people.”

Brown experienced Foster’s warmth when the coffee owner let the former college student sell homemade cinnamon rolls out of his location.

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Yvonne Boose
Jack Crest sharing a coffee sample with Dale Brown Jr.

Paula Hobson lives in Sycamore. She said she only went to the DeKalb location once but since it has moved to her city, she comes almost every week.

“The service is very friendly. The atmosphere is artistic, open minded and educational,” she said. “And the people who come in here often are just very interesting people. I love it.”

Hobson said she often does paperwork at the shop and loves how Foster works to bring the community together.

“I have Kenya, I have Ethiopian, I have Sumatra, Java, organic, Peru, Peruvian just different coffees, so that people can taste the difference from different regions, not only South American coffees, Island coffees and African coffees,” Jack Crest explained while showing off samples he gave out during the celebration.

Crest is the owner of Barb City Roasting in nearby Cortland. This is where Foster gets his coffee. The two men have worked together for three years. He said he's seen Foster’s shop survive the pandemic and overcome other obstacles.

“Jeff’s persevered through an awful lot. And he has a vision and he kept with that vision,” Crest said. “And sometimes things don't work out like we think they're going to, but Jeff has had that vision and stuck with it. And I think he's going to do really well in this location.”

Foster said he is still pushing CG4 Artists Initiative, a program that matches young artists with mentors. The outreach includes workshops, classes and other art programs that can take place at the location.

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Yvonne Boose
Artwork by DeKalb High School students

“So over time, I'd like to see some collaboration and connection between working or professional artists and students,” he said. “And now I'm bringing my own work too. I'm starting to do some artwork, again, painting and drawing. And so, I think it's just a gradual thing.”

He said he will continue to do fundraising to help with this program.

The grand opening included musical performances by Bear Wolf and a local DeKalb fusion band. There was also a display of DeKalb High School students’ artwork.

Foster said he wants to have weekly events for all types of artists and notes that the new location has a parking lot.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.