Entrepreneur grinds out new career

By Kevin Beese Staff Writer

Cortez Wash began roasting coffee after a conversation with his daughter. That conversation led him to leave his Chicago Public Schools position and start Javez Java Coffee Roastery. (Provided photo)

Fourth in a series looking at Black-owned start-up businesses in the Far South Community Development Corp. Marketplace in Chicago

Cortez Wash admits that he became a whiner during the height of COVID-19.

It wasn’t the loss of freedom or the loss of connection with family and friends that got to him. It was the lack of coffee.

“A lot of places that I would go to for coffee were closed. I became a whiner,” Wash said. “My daughter said, ‘Dad, Make your own coffee. That’s what you talk about. No one knows coffee better than you.’”

Wash started doing research and bought a roaster the size of a microwave oven. He bought some green coffee beans and got started.

“COVID was a blessing and a curse,” said Wash, who turned that conversation with his daughter into a company.

Javez Java Coffee Roastery is sharing space with four other new Black-owned startup businesses, along with four returning vendors, at the Far South CDC Marketplace, 837 W. 115th St., Chicago.

“Javez” in the business name is Wash’s middle name.

He started studying roasting and learned that many corporate coffee chains overstuff their roasters.

Javez Java Coffee’s Roastery’s space in the Far South Community Development Corp. Marketplace in Chicago. (Provided photo)

“The big roasters’ capacity is 30 pounds (of beans), but you are not supposed to go over 25 pounds or maybe 23 pounds because the beans need to move,” Wash said. “That is how beans get burnt at the bottom.

“You do not want to overstuff the roaster.”

Wash rented a small space where he would grind beans two or three times a week. People could call him ahead of time for custom order. Then he branched out into e-commerce, allowing patrons to order coffee online.

“They come for pick-up and it’s ready,” Wash said.

Along with his custom orders, he also does pop-up events.

He said the key to good coffee is to start with quality beans and roast on demand.

The self-proclaimed “coffeeholic” said to promote freshness, beans should not be ground months or weeks ahead of time.

Wash started in business in 2020 and admits he had his ups and downs getting started.

The Chicago Public Schools educator for 22 years decided 18 months ago to do his coffee business full time.

“It was time to step out and move forward,” Wash said.

Wash said his goal is to “give people quality, full-tasting coffee that is fresh.”

Before COVID, Wash said, whenever in the Printers Row neighborhood in Chicago, he would find himself hanging out in a coffee shop.

“I love quality coffee,” he said.

Wash said he is happy to be alongside other Black-owned businesses in the Marketplace.

“I have learned so much on how to facilitate and run a business. I learned how to make things properly work,” Wash said. “The Far South Community Development Corp. has given me insights. I am not doing things helter-skelter. My wife is a businessperson, so I am learning more and obtaining skills. Through networking with other businesses, I have learned different aspects of business. I have learned about loans and keeping books and records.”