During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses, mostly small businesses, were forced to close. Small companies took a significant hit during the pandemic. Now that cities are reopening, small businesses are struggling to survive. For one entrepreneur and his coffee houses, Trez Pugh, owner of Sip & Savor Coffee House, saw the challenges of not only staying open but also opening a new location. He says that when there is chaos and crisis, there is also opportunity.
In 2005 while working a full-time job and buying some residual property, the idea for a Coffee House was born. Trez Pugh researched, learning as much as he could about coffee, and opened his Sip & Savor Coffee House on the 1st floor of a residential building in the Southside neighborhood of Bronzeville. Sip & Savor Coffee house feels like home from the moment you walk in. The location is filled with Black Art, Fireplaces, and waterfalls. You can often hear the sounds of soul and reggae music playing in the background. Originally known as the Bronzeville Coffee House, Trez changed the name to Sip & Savor. The original location, located on East 43rd Street in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, is one of four locations located on the Southside and South Suburban locations.
The Chicago Defender spoke with the CEO of Sip & Savor Coffee House, Trez V. Pugh, about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, coffee, community, and how he thrived during a pandemic.
Chicago Defender: What is Sip & Savor?
Trez Pugh: I opened up in 2005 in Bronzeville, where it was just me, empty lots and abandoned buildings, while the neighborhood was up and coming. Sip & Savor is more than Just a Coffee House; it’s where coffee and community meet.
Chicago Defender: How were you able to thrive, continue to run your business during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Trez Pugh: I love challenges. Where there’s chaos and crisis, there is also opportunity. You must find your niche. I got creative and innovative. I had to cut payroll, but I made sure that my employees had enough to pay bills and rent still. Pushing more use of the store’s mobile app, social media, and then collaborations; working with chefs. The Chefs would prepare food, and people would come in their cars to my location and grab and go. Then there was help from the community, and the community stepped in big time. I put one thousand dollars on a gift card for all First Responders. I kept it a secret and told my employees that when a first responder comes into the coffee house, make sure you use the card to pay for their purchase. But eventually, word got out that I had a gift card set aside for First responders, and I started getting anonymous donations added to the card. That allowed me to pay my employees a little more, pay utilities and taxes, and keep my locations open and open my other site just on my name alone.
Chicago Defender: Tell me more about your newest location? You managed to open a new location during a pandemic. How did this come about?
Trez Pugh: I never thought I would go out to the suburbs, but I’m learning to not say never to anything. There is a lot to opening a business, demographics, the need, median income, the politics there, competition, and checking with my team because you can have too much going on and can’t manage it. My PR and marketing person had a mutual connection who wanted to partner with me about opening a coffee house in Matteson. He told me his vision and took me to a space of over 7000 sq feet, and I fell in love with the place. Now there are three 3 in the city and one in the South Suburbs of Matteson, Illinois.
Chicago Defender: What is it that you want people to know about being an entrepreneur? What makes you and Sip & Savor one?
Trez Pugh: I can’t do this alone. Sip & Savor is a joint venture between the community, employees, and myself as the CEO. Everybody has skin in the game. I have to show resilience, function, grit, and staying power. These things must be in you and not learned behaviors. To want to do well and to want to treat people well. For me, it isn’t always about making money. It’s about making a difference. To have a product that is second to none.
The community has choices, but they choose to come to me. Some of my customers are not in the community. Some will pass 5 or 6 coffee shops to go to my coffee house. So I look at that as loyalty. I’ve been here when it was abandoned buildings and empty lots in 2005, and now in 2021, you have $700,000 homes, daycare centers, new construction, and I am still here. I want people to know that this is no get-rich-quick scam. No rapid refund. No Instant Grits. You don’t put something in quick and try to get something out right away. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you want to make a change, or a difference, prepare yourself for the long haul. Have a plan, work that plan, and do it unapologetically. You need to be deliberate, intentional, and do it without apology. So you either get on this train or get run over by it.
Chicago Defender: Do you want to open up more locations soon?
Trez Pugh: I’m letting my attorney and consulting team handle most of that. Right now, I want to fine-tune what I already have open; unless there is an offer, I can’t refuse. I will never say never, but right now, I have enough work to do just on logistics, staffing, scheduling, product line, and marketing. I am still very hands-on in my business.
Now that the city is coming out of the pandemic and opening up, we still don’t have people working like they were before the pandemic, and some businesses had to permanently close because they do not have the staff. So much has to be considered because if you move too soon, and grow too quickly, it can hurt you and even ruin you if you are not careful. It’s not that everybody knows about you. Can you meet the demand, stay consistent with the product, and the same customer service? Experience is what matters. So I have enough to do right now,
Chicago Defender: What is your Vision for Sip & Savor?
Trez Pugh: I want to license and franchise in specific locations. Create Jobs and change the community. Change the narrative. When people talk about Chicago, they will also say, oh yeah, that’s by Sip & Savor; every time you go there, you will get great coffee and excellent customer service. I want to have a business where anyone who works with me can make enough money to own property, have health care, and send their kids to excellent schools. If I’m able to do that, then that means I am doing something very successful. I want it to become a business incubator where people can come together and network with an excellent cup of coffee in the community.
On my social media page, I have ‘Pugh Chronicles to stay relevant and in people’s faces.’ When they see or hear “Sippin,” “Sippn ain’t easy,” or “where coffee and community meet,” you think of me and Sip & Savor. When you think of Sip & Savor, you think of crisp, clean, classy, consistent customer service and excellent coffee, therefore changing the narrative one cup. It makes you feel good.
Sip & Savor has multiple locations in Bronzeville, Hyde Park, and Matteson, IL. For more on Sip & Savor, visit their website at www.sipandsavorchicago.com.
Shera Strange is a writer and Certified Fitness Professional/Fitness writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media@StrangeFitness.