In the first few days for Tala Coffee’s Winnetka location, customers expressed gratitude for the shop’s arrival in the Indian Hill district, said Joanna Tong, Tala’s marketing and operations director.
But maybe none of them were as grateful as Tong and her team.
“It’s been awesome,” Tong said. “… No one wanted this more than me, but it seems like the community wanted something here for so long.”
Tala Coffee Roasters opened its roastery in Libertyville in 2017. The Winnetka location is the business’s third cafe, joining the original Highwood cafe, which opened in 2018 inside a former firehouse; and the Libertyville one, which opened in September inside the company’s roastery.
Tala applied nearly three years ago to a Village of Winnetka request for proposals to improve 93 Green Bay Road, a long deserted property with a vacant building. As The Record previously reported, the Village selected Tala from three finalists in 2022.
The development of the space, which included negotiations with the property owner, the Village of Winnetka, was “such a long process,” said Tong, who added that she and her team put their hearts and souls into the space.
Tala has built its reputation on its coffee (its motto is “Sweet, Beautiful Coffee”) and its core values, Tong said: quality, approachability, intentionality and connectivity. Those attributes are behind the coffee as well as the cafe’s vibe, which offers plenty to charm customers while centering on serious coffee.
The cafe’s seasonal menu is evidence to that dynamic with a list of holiday offerings, like the Candy Cane Lane and gingerbread latte (with syrups made in-house), alongside its Ruca house blend, Finca Cerro Negro pour-overs and plenty more.
Tong said a customer once told her that they enjoyed Tala because the coffee roaster didn’t take itself too seriously. She liked that.
“We’re really good at making coffee but we are excelling at things like the Candy Cane Lane, too,” she said.
The cafe also serves pastries and breakfast bites courtesy of north-suburban bakeries, and Tong said soon the Winnetka location will have a more substantial food menu — a feature that will be unique to the location.
The store’s location is just a couple of blocks west from New Trier High School’s Winnetka campus. Tong and company expect to see plenty of students throughout the day once word spreads. But she said the coffee shop is a community hub, and so far, she’s been happy to see young families and neighbors come through.
Joe Jaskulski, a 10-year Winnetka resident, walked over to Tala on Monday morning, Dec. 4, to enjoy a coffee in the convenient location.
“It’s certainly nice they restored this abandoned facility,” he said. “It’s a great addition to the neighborhood and I hope they succeed.”
The cafe can seat about 60 inside at a mix of two-top window seats, four-top tables, large booths and stools along window bartops.
A key feature of the property will reveal itself when the weather turns. The vast outdoor space will feature tables and community seating in a cooperative with the Village of Winnetka, owner of the property since 2001.
The Village sought developers for the property — which once featured a Texaco gas station and service shop — in 2018 and then again in 2020 before naming three finalists in October 2021.
Tala’s lease with the village has an initial term of 10 years with two additional 10-year options. The annual rent due to the Village of Winnetka is $4,110, and Tala is responsible for covering property taxes, as well as payments for liability and building insurance, building maintenance, utilities and refuse collection, according to Village documents.
Tala planned to invest $603,000 into the cafe’s buildout and improvements to the site, while the Village budgeted $946,230, including $563,730 for project-specific improvements and $382,500 for utility and parking “improvements required for any tenant,” the documents say. The partnership also includes a $60,000 village loan (3 percent interest) to Tala for building materials. The loan must be paid back within the 10-year length of the lease.
Tala Coffee is the only cafe in the Indian Hill area but joins Hometown Coffee and Juice, Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks as a coffee shop on or near Green Bay Road. The other three shops are located north of Elm Street in downtown Winnetka.
Tala’s Winnetka hours are 7 a.m.-6 p.m. every day. For more on the business and the Winnetka location, visit the Tala Coffee Roasters website.
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