Sarah Riddle and Katy Weseman have been partners in life for 12 yearsand now they are partners in business with the launch of Ridman's Coffee, a cozy, independent shop at the southwestern corner of Clark and Lawrence that brews up Dark Matter Coffee with a side of Southern hospitality.
Originally from Tennessee, Riddle brings 15 years of experience working in Chicago's coffee industry to this venture, including her tenure as a barista and store manager at Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, followed by a stretch at SteamVolt, a craft coffee machine repair company, where she acquired an extensive knowledge of coffee and espresso equipment.
"One of the things I learned about myself [while working at SteamVolt] is that I'm far too extroverted to be a service technician," said Riddle, 39. "Katy and I would often joke around about finding an opportunity for me to get more face-time with people. When we found out about this space becoming available we pursued it without really talking about it too muchwe just decided to go for it."
Ridman's, a hybrid of the owners' last names, has an old-school ring to ita vibe that is quietly enhanced by the shop's beautifully restored mosaic tile floor, which was uncovered when the old carpet was peeled back during the building's rehab. ( In fact, the mosaic tiles inspired Ridman's logo. )
"We tried to make the space really inviting for a variety of people," said Riddle. "We have comfortable furniture, and we have tables with chairs for folks who want to work and have meetings. We also put a changing table in the restroom for people with kids. We simply set out to be a neighborhood shop and it definitely seems that the neighborhood is responding to us."
"It's also been really exciting for us to see lots of members of the LGBTQ community come in to the shop," added Weseman, 37, who grew up just a couple of miles from Ridman's, and works in higher education with a focus on student development. "It's a priority for us to have a space that is inviting for LGBTQ-identified people. For example, we put up a sign that says 'This restroom is for everyone.' Having an overt statement around inclusionwhether that's babies getting their diapers changed or transgender or non-binary folks just having a safe place to peeis really important to us."
According to Riddle, the bean-slinger of the duo, the coffee industry tends to embrace diversity, a mindset that initially took her by surprise. "When I moved here 15 years ago and started working in coffee, it was a bomb-freaking revelation how inclusive and available the coffee industry was to me as a queer person," said Riddle.
"Owning her own coffee shop has been a dream of Sarah's for many years," said Weseman. "It's been really cool being in a relationship with her for the past 12 years…and knowing that this was a dream of hers in some way, shape, or form. At that point in time, we were in our mid-twenties, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, yeah. Right. Like that's ever going to actually happen.' It's been amazing seeing it all come to fruition. I think the moment that we are at in our lives right now made this the right timewe have the stability that in many different ways we didn't necessarily have 12 years ago."
Riddle and Weseman entered into a civil union in 2011 when it first became legal in Illinois to do so. The couple got "the free upgrade," as they describe it, in 2013 when they were legally married.
While the couple's backstory and passion for the coffee business is inspiring, it's the opportunity to find a great cup of joe that's drawing customers in to the shop in droves. Ridman's uses beans from local Chicago roaster Dark Matter Coffee and offers a full range of coffee drinks, including espresso, cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas. One of their most popular items is Dark Matter's Chocolate City iced coffee, available on draft. The shop's signature drink, the Sippy Cupa blend of coconut and cashew milks, maple syrup, ginger, and espressois a must-try.
"We were playing around with different espresso drinks in order to come up with something that you can't get everywhere, but with flavors that were familiar to people and enjoyable," explained Weseman. "We were playing off all these different flavors, and one day Sarah was just like, 'Let's just throw some ginger in it and see what that does.' We experimented with different quantities of ginger and the different amounts of coconut versus cashew milk. We don't purchase a pre-blended coconut and cashew milkwe do a mixture of those two separately in the drink."
For those interested in tea, Ridman's carries a robust list of loose-leaf teas from Rishi, a company based in Milwaukee. The shop also offers fresh pastries daily from Hewn in Evanston and gluten-free and vegan treats from Defloured in Andersonville.
Ridman's, 4758 N. Clark St., is open seven days a week: Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday 7 a.m.-4 p.m. See www.ridmanscoffee.com/ .