Liz Doyle, the owner of the Blue Max coffee house on Lathrop Avenue, serves up nightly specials along with her fairly traded gourmet coffees. It might be a vegetarian lasagna or a chowder. But she also features frequent specials of a non-culinary kind. Call the specials entertainment, call them conversation, they are part of her dream of creating a coffee house for the community.
And that includes the religious community. Doyle grew up in Massachusetts in a liberal Catholic family which was cut from the same kind of cloth as was the Kennedy family. Herfather wrote for Commonweal magazine, was active in politics and even ran for office. From that tradition she learned tolerance. She now is a member of New Life Christian Fellowship on North Avenue, a conservative, charismatic congregation. From New Life she has gained an appreciation for the teachings of the Bible.
“Walking with the Bible,” she said, “it’s simpler than all the doctrines I memorized while growing up, but it’s also more difficult.” Last month, for example, Lynette Hoy, the chair of the Community and Business Women for Christ, gave a presentation entitled “Reasons to Believe in Jesus.” The flyer for the event said, “Christians and non-Christians will be challenged to consider C.S. Lewis’ Lord, Liar or Lunatic argument making the case for Christ! Come and enjoy delicious coffees, tea, fruit and desserts”make new friends”and be inspired.”
What is interesting about this event is that the Business Women for Christ chose a venue outside of the church and found a business entrepreneur who was happy to host them. Doyle sees no problem in having religious groups use her coffee house for their events.
In fact, on March 7, the restaurant began a monthlong series “Tuesday Conversation Night at Blue Max: Developing the Art of Creative Conversation through Unjudgmental Listening.”
Led by Doug Larson, who runs a similar program in Hyde Park, the conversations are based on what are known as the 95+ Theses, a take off on what Martin Luther nailed to the church door in Wittenberg and which helped spark the Protestant Reformation.
Here’s a sample of the 95+ Theses.
Thesis 1: The statement in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men (people) are create equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. . .”, only makes sense from a Creator God’s perspective. There is nothing equal about us from our perspective. We are only equal through the eyes of God.
Thesis 4: We don’t really understand what we believe, especially about experiences such as love and God, until we attempt to describe our convictions to others. . .even if only to ourselves in a mirror.
Doyle would even like to have a morning prayer group meet at Blue Max. She hastened to add, however, that she is not promoting the theology or spirituality of any of the groups that meet in her cafe.
“The Business Women for Christ contacted me,” she said. “I’m supportive of them, but I’m not representing them.” The fact is that Lynette Hoy’s theology is probably quite different from that of Doug Larson. That’s OK with Doyle, because her vision is not to promote any one take on God but to provide a space, a community space, in which many different ideas can be shared.
Her motivation for taking the risk of starting a new business grows out of many of her loves, including the life of the spirit.
“I’m a coffee lover,” she declared as she listed reasons why she opened Blue Max. “We buy our coffee from Intelligentsia, the most well known roaster in Chicago. Next Tuesday we will install our own roaster. All of our beans are fairly traded and many are grown organically.”
“Also, I have an entrepreneurial nature, which I discovered while managing the Mellow Yellow restaurant in Hyde Park. Finally, I’m not in it primarily for the money. I do have to make a go of it, because I have a huge family to support, but I’m in this business for the whole community. If you take steps that understand your heart’s desire, then it’s going to be in line with what God wants.”
Blue Max’s owner has noticed that there “are different energies at different times of the day” in her cafe. During the day a lot of moms come in with their kids, because there is a children’s play area in a corner of the dining room. Students come in at night and families on the weekend. That’s just fine with her.
She is also trying to become an arts center for the community. Through an outfit called Arts Warrior, Doyle filled much of her February calendar with musical groups representing many different styles including French cabaret, folk, rock, slide guitar, jazz and blues. Art from Arts Warrior hangs on the cafe’s walls.
Doyle has lived in Forest Park for the last five years and for eleven years in Oak Park before that. She chose this community as the place to open her business, because the rent was more affordable and this village is “diverse but not overly impressed with its own importance.”
Perhaps the bulletin board by the front door best represents the spirit of what Liz Doyle is trying to do with Blue Max. On it were posters for guitar lessons, a live Las Vegas concert, the Economy Shop, a Celebration of Praise, pediatric chiropractic care, a personal trainer, a world music festival, Ekklesia, Strike at Cancer and The Energy Spa.
Blue Max is open Monday-Friday 5:30 a.m. till 8:00 p.m., Saturday 6:30 a.m. till 8:00 p.m. and Sundays 8:00 a.m. till 4:00 p.m.
Call 366-9224 for information.