It was just by chance,” said Ayisha Strotter, describing the decision she made with her mother, Margo, that transformed the two into restaurateurs. Ain’t She Sweet Café opened in Bronzeville in 2006. The mother-daughter team created a community out of the restaurant with its vibrant, down-home feel, and they met a demand for quality food with service in the neighborhood. Now, they’ve used their success to open a second location in Beverly; the new restaurant opened its doors on March 6.
Walking into the original Ain’t She Sweet Café, one cannot help but notice the hustle and bustle of patrons gleefully ordering jerk chicken wraps, sitting down to a meeting, or leaving with their lunch in hand. The Beverly location, Ayisha said, has “the same type of concept.”
“We want to be the same type of homey feel and very family-friendly,” she said. “Customers appreciate that, and Beverly is a family-oriented community. I grew up there. We just want to take that community feel and home feel over there.”
When entering the new Ain’t She Sweet in Beverly, the deep plum-colored walls and fresh wood floor immediately stand out, followed by the comfortable flow of the open seating plan. The café’s offerings, and the décor, are rounded out by the setup for making Sip & Savor coffees and Ain’t She Sweet’s much-loved smoothies and shakes. The only piece that feels out of place is a flat-screen TV on the back wall, which did not seem to draw much interest from the patrons.
On my visit, I felt adventurous and ordered the jerk salmon wrap and a Jamaican soda. The wrap was delicious: the fish was perfectly charred, and there was a generous amount of aioli to bind all the flavors together. The serving size was large enough to satisfy, but not large enough to cause a food coma.
The quality of Ain’t She Sweet’s food makes the success of this “retirement hobby” unsurprising, and the Strotters seem excited about future growth. “[Adding locations] wasn’t something we thought about [initially], but the demand has grown,” Ayisha said. “People ask us to bring it further south, bring it west. We are looking at the West Side, the West Loop, the South Loop, and the suburbs, so the sky’s the limit.”
The process of opening the restaurant’s new location has been an exciting and stressful time for the Strotters.
“It’s a different type of stress,” Ayisha said. “It’s not the type of stress where you wake in the morning and dread going in. I have so many things going on, and I’m a very organized person, but that’s the stressful thing—that I have to react as things happen.”
The expansion did not come without a few headaches. “The new space was [originally] a retail space—it was a U.S. Cellular, so it wasn’t really outfitted for a restaurant,” Ayisha explained. The renovation presented challenges that she and her mother were not used to, since the location of the first restaurant was more restaurant-friendly.
The location’s difficulties pushed back the timeline for opening. “But we know next time what to look for in a space and what we can’t have in a space,” Ayisha said.
Overall, the new Ain’t She Sweet Café has the same charm as the original, but with a few touches that make it slightly more glamorous. Judging by the looks on the patrons’ faces, this location will soon become a Beverly neighborhood staple.
Ain’t She Sweet Café Beverly, 9920 S. Western Ave. Monday–Friday, 10am–6pm; Saturday, 11am–6pm. (773) 840-3309. aintshesweetcafe.com
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