Made in Uptown: First Sip Cafe
Erin says that while her mom always dreamed of running a business, she grew up not wanting to work at a restaurant. She didn’t imagine she’d ever be an entrepreneur, let alone with her own business just a block away from her parents’ long-running Café Hoang – the popular Vietnamese eatery that also has locations in Chinatown and Oak Park. By high school she had imagined she’d own a coffee shop sometime later in life but when the space suddenly became available she and Gigi jumped at the chance.
Getting here, Erin says, required a very painful build out process. The space – once a video-rental store – was slated to be a vegetarian restaurant, but when that fell through, the pair saw a chance to realize their long-held dream. But, construction took longer and was more expensive than anticipated. The sisters did it all on their own, requiring lots of creativity – including sourcing much of the décor from Goodwill. Doing so made them appreciate each step and learn a lot, plus the homey touches give First Sip Cafe its charm – like the dozens of teacups suspended over the counter.
They had more fun designing their menu. The pair used their booth at the Argyle Night Market to test out different flavors. Erin says it wasn’t easy coming up with four drinks each week, but by the end of the Market’s nine weeks, they had a long roster of taste-tested, local-approved concoctions to serve in the café. And working with Intelligentsia helped – the famous local roasters provided the sisters invaluable hands on training and support.
Erin, Gigi, and their parents immigrated to Chicago in August of 1997 when Erin was just four. She says her mom is someone who naturally excels at cooking and tasting food and soon after coming to the US she started working as a cook and then became a chef. Café Hoang followed soon after – when Erin was in the second grade.
Erin is excited about Argyle’s future. She is excited that Uptown’s Pan-Asian “Asia on Argyle” commercial district is seeing new investment, more collaboration, plus a second generation of immigrants that are working to modernize and update the area. She wants the area to be more festive and colorful, which is why she and Gigi – on a whim – painted their façade a bright green days before opening.
Already, First Sip Cafe has hosted a book launch, a pop-up dinner, and more events are in the works such as a pop-up market, monthly featured artists, Friday night happy hours, and coffee mixology sessions. The sisters also want to let CPS students show their work and to highlight coffee culture from around the world here. They keep testing new drinks and flavors and are slowly adding food items to their menu. So stop in for a sip!