Located on Chicago Avenue, Kafein Cafe is a popular spot frequented by students to study, socialize and, of course, caffeinate. North by Northwestern visited this cozy little spot to talk to the owner Arshad "Sony" Javid. Javid goes by his mother’s childhood nickname for him, Sony, which he said means “beautiful" in his homeland of Pakistan. Raised in Pakistan, Sony was immersed in the coffee culture, which he brought with him to America where he opened an espresso cart on the University of Illinois Chicago campus in 1991. Now, in addition to Kafein, Sony owns Café Descartes, a cafe with six locations throughout Chicago, including one located on Michigan Avenue.
What drew you to the coffee business?
Coffee isn’t just a passion to me. I grew up with cafes in my life. Coffee houses, tea houses – it’s a culture [in Pakistan]. There are no paper ‘to go’ cups, so people go [to cafes] with their newspaper and their small espresso, cappuccino or chai. They sit there with a little [pastry] – croissant, biscotti. They eat their breakfast and meet people. They talk about life, do business meetings. In America it’s a part of life to grow up with McDonald’s. We, [in Pakistan], grow up with going to cafes. It’s a coffee culture. It’s part of life. It’s in my blood.
How did you get to where you are today with your business?
I didn’t just do it like a business. I did it with a heart. You know, coffee is my passion. I like what I do. I like to come here [to Kafein]. I like to meet people. I like to have a good cup of coffee. Instead of taking this business as other business owners do, I took it as a passion. I started with an espresso cart on the UIC campus, but I couldn’t work a coffee cart for my whole entire life. I wanted a real cafe, and now I have it.
In your opinion, what makes the perfect cafe?
Right here [in Kafein], the environment here. We’re providing people with good food, good tables, a good study place, good music and good culture. A nice cozy place. People come here because they want to come here. It’s not like the big national chains – Dunkin’, Starbucks – where people come to pick up their coffee and go. We are different from that. They do a lot of marketing. They focus on people who don’t want to sit there, who just pick up and go, pick up and go. It makes them money. We like for people to come here and stay to try the place. That’s the difference.
What was your best coffee experience?
Roasting is a process. If someone knows how to roast good coffee, if they blend it well, I like it. So, I don’t have a particular taste. There is a lot of coffee from different parts of the world. My favorite coffee is a good blend. When you’re cooking a curry for example, you use 20 different spices to make a better taste. Same with coffee. In my life, I don’t drink drip coffee, but if I were to have drip coffee, I’d rather have a Sumatra Mocha Java.
Moving forward, what role do you hope Kafein plays in the Evanston and the Northwestern community?
I’d like to see Northwestern people inviting others out to talk here, just like I do. I like to sit with people, talk and try to get to know them, build relationships. We focus demographically mostly on ages 18 to 24. We have late hours to accommodate students, so they can really do their homework: 10:30 in the morning to 1 a.m. during the week and weekends until 2 a.m. But, older people that come here too. We welcome everybody from the Evanston community. It’s a big community.