When the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns came to Chicago in March, Lexi Matthews and Rex Ruskauff lost their jobs — she was a music agent assistant; he was a chef.
So the couple decided to leave the city altogether and return to Matthews’ hometown of Marion and start a business of their own.
Uptown Coffee opened Monday in the front room of the Uptown Snug bar, which Matthews’ parents Jeanne and Paul Matthews own. They had been sharing the space with the Blue Strawberry, but when the shutdowns started, that coffee shop decided to pull out of the Marion space. So they needed someone else to run it.
For Lexi Matthews and Ruskauff, the timing was right, and the push they needed to put their longtime but vague plans of returning to Iowa to start a business into action.
“We’d been thinking about moving back for a while. It was something that just kept being pushed along. We were kind of just twiddling our thumbs in Chicago,” Matthews said. “It was a running joke for a while. My parents always said, ‘Oh Rex, you could come back and run the coffee shop. It was kind of the thing they mentioned every time they saw us, but it wasn’t a real thing.”
About five weeks ago, it became real when the couple packed up a truck and left their Chicago life behind.
“Running a coffee shop is something I’d wanted to do for a while. Besides being a chef, my second obsession has always been coffee,” Ruskauff said. “It kind of just fell into place.”
“Having our timeline forced on us by the pandemic just kind of worked out,” he said.
Ruskauff’s coffee obsession started as a teenager. All the details that go into making a perfect cup intrigue him.
“I’ve kind of fallen in love with the gadgetry of it. I started accumulating every home brewing method. I went down a rabbit hole of trying every roaster in Chicago and every bean,” Ruskauff said. “Every Sunday for the last two years we would go to a different coffee shop in Chicago so we could sample every different kind of coffee.”
He said he wants to bring what he’s learned and that attention to detail to the coffee he serves in Marion. Along with drip coffee and espresso drinks, they will offer cold brews, including nitro cold brew and some infused cold brew, as well as kombucha on tap from Eisbach Kombuchery in Marion. The menu will include food: Donutland doughnuts, panini and quiche.
They are starting by offering only carryout and curbside orders and plan to add in-house seating soon, using the Uptown Snug bar seating area to allow more social distancing inside.
Matthews said opening during a pandemic comes with qualms.
“I’m a little nervous. We kind of waffle between are we really dumb opening during a pandemic or is this a good business move because it gives us a little wiggle room for a more soft opening,” she said. “But Marion is great about community; everyone works together. Everyone is filled with excitement, so we feel really happy to be welcomed with open arms.”
In the future they may add happy hour food for Uptown Snug customers and may have a presence at area farmers markets, Matthews said.
“Right now we’re just excited to open a coffee shop and to celebrate coffee and community in a way that makes sense in this new way,” she said.
Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go
What: Uptown Coffee Co.
Where: 760 11th St., Marion
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
Details: (319) 200-6996, uptowncoffee.co
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