Dark Side Coffee House Opens in Cicero
Like a scene out of a Lifetime movie, Matt and Vanessa Emery, now owners of Dark Side Coffee House, had their first date in a coffee shop when they were in college. Right from the start, Vanessa was smitten.
“I remember calling my mom that night and telling her that he drinks coffee the same way I do – black,” Vanessa says. “And college kids don’t drink black coffee. I said, ‘I’m going to marry him!’”
And she did. The couple often talked about how unimpressed they were with the coffee selection in the area, and after going on a vacation and visiting a coffee shop that roasted beans in-house, they were inspired to do the same. They purchased a small sample roaster and began roasting beans for themselves in their garage.
“We really loved the flavor we could pull out of different coffees so we started experimenting,” Vanessa says.
That Christmas, they gave all their friends and family members coffee, and the response they received was overwhelmingly positive.
Since individuals can’t sell coffee unless they officially establish a commercial kitchen, the couple had to get creative. They retired their 10-pound roaster and bought a 1,600-pound roaster that can roast 20 pounds at a time, and officially opened as Dark Side Roasters in May of 2018, selling online and at farmers markets. Last winter they set up a pop-up shop in Alexander’s on the Square.
“It allowed us to gauge community interest, and interest was high,” Vanessa says. “Customers kept asking when we were going to open a brick-and-mortar coffee shop.”
In November of 2020, Matt and Vanessa held a grand opening for Dark Side Coffee House, located in downtown Cicero.
“We loved the idea of providing a place for people to come and meet with us, talk about our coffees and relax, and there was nowhere other than restaurants and bars around here to do it,” Matt says.
The pair envisioned a coffee shop where people could sit for a quick meeting or check in with friends, without having to order a meal. They also paired with a friend who owns Cookies & Bytes to sell sweets in their shop, which they have found is a great combination.
“We get quite a bit of dessert traffic after dinner, where people will come grab a brownie and coffee on their way home,” Vanessa says.
The seating capacity is 16, with four two-tops, a couch and a chair, plus a bar with four seats. Rather than quick customer turnover, the owners want an intimate place for people to come and hang out with friends.
One item that makes the business unique is a slushie machine. The team creates caramel cold brew slushies and apple cider slushies. The signature cinnamon syrup, made in-house, also sets them apart. They sell a lot of s’mores lattes and toasted marshmallow whipped cream lattes. They start with their espresso blend and carefully balance the milk with the syrups.
“With some places, it seems like you’re drinking sweet milk,” Matt says. “We put more espresso in our drinks so that they actually taste like coffee. After all, that’s what you’re coming in for.”
Down the road, the owners would like to move to a larger space with enough room for both a coffee shop and roasting operations, so that they can show people the roasting process.
“Nobody thinks about how their coffee is made,” Vanessa says. “They just know if it’s a good or a bad cup of coffee. We’d like to educate them on what goes into that.”
In the future, they also hope to introduce other styles of coffee such as trendier West Coast coffee.
“We don’t have a lot of a third-wave coffee population in Cicero,” Matt says. “It’s about meeting people in the middle. People tell us, ‘I drink Folgers at home. What’s the closest thing to that?’”
The name of the shop stems from the fact that the owners are “Star Wars” fans with two young boys, Andyn, 9, and Adlyr, 3. Vanessa had a blast naming the blends, including Rey of Light, The Kid Awakens Way Too Early, and Java the Hutt. She also came up with the shop’s tagline: “We are the force that wakes you.”
The couple found that their social media following has been helped by the fact that many people are at home more often than usual due to the pandemic. Online sales have also increased. In fact, the company has shipped products to all 50 states. Vanessa has also been part of a mothers group, which helped to drive business their way.
“Moms need coffee and they want to support a mom-owned business,” says Vanessa, noting that the company offers free local delivery.