Change can be scary, especially when it has to do with one of our favorite places. Lovers of M2 Cafe you have nothing to worry about. Melinda Kempton is the new woman in charge of running the show, and she's using her years of experience and love of West Loop to put bring new energy into the cafe. We sat down with Melinda to talk about running her two locations, Morgan Street Cafe & M2 Cafe. 

So to start off, tell me a bit about your history and how you came to running M2 Cafe?

MELINDA: So, I worked in the corporate world for 35 years. I’m a food scientist by trade and worked a lot within bakeries and bakery factories, which is where I got my start. Right around the time I was considering what to do for retirement after many years in R&D with corporate brands like Sarah Lee, the owners of Morgan Street and M2 Cafe decided to sell, and I decided that was the perfect opportunity for me to settle down here. I’ve been here just under a year, it’ll be a full year in March, and it’s been a great time. We inherited a great customer base, and have kept most things similar to how they were before. We did just introduce a new menu and have brought in more new customers.

How would you describe what you’re doing here at M2 Cafe?

MELINDA: What we try to be is a real neighborhood place. I would say authenticity is what describes us the best, meaning these are baristas who are trained and know all about coffee and have a lot of passion for what they do. We don’t have the automated machines that do it all for you, so the baristas have to know every recipe and be able to make adjustments. For me, it’s a mixture of art and science which has been kind of my whole life. Food science is of course about food, but you have to have some art to it and passion to understand flavors and the whole things. I mean we all know the basics of “you’re supposed to make a cappuccino like this” but they feel it. It’s not going to be the same every time, because they aren’t machines, so they make adjustments as they see fit. To me, it feels like a magic trick almost sometimes. They love the customers; we have a lot of regulars. There are lots of great conversations that occur between the baristas and the costumers that take the experience to a personal level. It’s something I wasn’t expecting in a big city honestly.

Yeah, I feel like the nice thing about Chicago is that almost every neighborhood has that community feel within it. Especially when you’re living in a big city, you want to find a few neighborhood places that you love and adore. So that’s been sort of your experience with your customers and regulars here?

MELINDA: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. There’s a lot of communication. I’ll ask them “What do you want to see here? What do you want more or less of”? The one big thing I heard over and over again at the beginning was more vegan options. So with the new menu, we put on about 7 or 8 items that are strictly vegan. We have a tofu scramble, a wrap, veggie hot dogs, veggie burgers, quinoa wrap, and some others. They have all been very popular purchases. Some people come here twice a day because they can’t really get that stuff anywhere else when they work nearby. We especially get a lot of UIC students, to whom we do give a 10% discount. I think they definitely adore the chill vibe this cafè has. They hang out here all day sometimes. It’s really nice, they’ll sometimes bring a big study group and give even more life to the cafè. It’s been so fun, and part of what I’m having so much fun with, are the "kids" who work here. I call them kids because I feel old. We have a really good crew now. They love being here and we have fun, so the day goes by fast

So what’s been some of the biggest surprises you’ve had since starting here?

MELINDA: I guess a bit of a challenge, but it’s also been interesting, is that there is a lot of construction around here. So I guess in my mind I think I’m catering to a certain clientele like students and people who know about coffee, but I also get a lot of construction workers around here all day. I catered a bit of the new menu to them, like big meatball subs that are really filling, because I just want to be able to service everybody. You can’t get too one way, so I just have a lot of stuff I sell here to make everybody happy. A lot of our regulars come from them too!

#SpoonTip: you can also create your own sandwich too!

That’s so awesome. So what’s been your favorite part about this neighborhood? I know you’ve mentioned you love the customers, but is there anything else that really draws you into this area of the city?

MELINDA: I do love that it’s very diverse. We have a lot of international customers, as well as people of different races, gender identities, sexualities, and everyone is welcome here. We don’t allow any toxic behavior to happen, and we want everyone to feel like they are able to come and enjoy themselves here. I’ve lived here 20 years, and it has changed so much. I appreciate that’s it’s changing to become more diverse and accepting towards others.

So what makes M2 Cafe different? What sets it apart from other places in the area?

MELINDA: Well for one, the food offerings. A lot of the coffee shops have food, but not to the extent that we do. We take a lot of pride in our ingredients, while other places would do more premade food or just limited offerings. We make sure to focus on great coffee and also a great food selection. We do use Boarshead meat, local Turano bread, and our produce person tries to get things as local as possible when it’s available for the season since we can’t really grow lettuce year round in the midwest. We try to keep it local, authentic, and we put love and care into each sandwich. It’s not an assembly line, it really is an art as well. It’s a challenge when we get busy, but we’ve also made some menu changes that help with efficiency as well as better equipment that will help us with our speed.

So what are some of your best sellers?

MELINDA: For coffee, lattes by far, as well as drip coffee for a close second. In the summer, the draft coffee is always popular. We use the local Dark Matter brand of coffee, and I love them because their philosophy is a lot like mine. They’ve come a long way as a local company, from being a super small shop to becoming superstars. They're growing so fast, it’s great - and they are so great to work with! Bestseller sandwich-wise, probably anything with turkey, those are always customer favorites.

What is one of the new menu items that you think everyone should try?

MELINDA: There’s something called deli twins, and it is a whole portion of pastrami and corn beef stacked on top of rye bread with coleslaw and thousand island dressing that is BIG. It’s delicious.

As it's always good to get an expert opinion, here are some employee recommendations:

Katie: Iced coffee with almond milk // Raspberry cream cheese muffin or M2

Delmi: Lavender matcha // Desperado

Irene: Cold Brew // Hot Pastrami

Cesar: Cortado // Turkey heaven or lox bagel


Morgan Street Cafe: 111 S Morgan St, Chicago, IL 60607

M2 Cafe: 850 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60607

Student Discount: 10% off when you show your UIC ID

Instagram: @morganstreetcafe

If you're new to the coffee world and want to sound like a pro, check out Coffee Lingo for Dummies to know what to order.