Related Story: Kribi Coffee honored with Illinois Made award

These are tough times for small businesses but the state of Illinois is supporting them with a program called Illinois Made. Two Forest Park businesses were accepted into this highly-competitive program. They are Danche Guitars, 7232 Madison St., and Kribi Coffee Air Roasters, 7324 Madison St. Both businesses will be promoted on the Illinois Made website and they will receive handsome plaques to display.

Both were nominated for the award by Eric Wagner, who works for Visit Oak Park, which serves as the tourism bureau for Western Cook County, including Forest Park. “The program celebrates the makers, creators and artisans of Illinois,” Wagner explained, “It promotes the craftspeople, artists and family-owned businesses that help Illinois thrive.”

Lori Kokenes also championed these local shops. “The Chamber is super-excited that these businesses were selected as Illinois Makers. We’re grateful that both of these amazing businesses call Forest Park home.” 

Jacque Shalo, who operates Kribi Coffee, wasn’t aware his shop had been nominated until Wagner and Kokenes called him with the good news. “I was elated,” Shalo said. “We’ve worked really hard the last four years, even more intensely the last two years.” Now the pandemic makes running the shop even more challenging, but Shalo is making the necessary adjustments.

For example, he developed a special blend of coffee to welcome teachers back to Longfellow School in Oak Park. “It’s called Longfellow Bears Care and I donate some of the revenue to the PTO.” Shalo also produced a Black Lives Matter blend to celebrate that movement. From the outset, he has used his shop to promote social-impact issues.

He’s making face masks using colorful fabric he has accumulated from yearly visits to his small village in Cameroon.

“We’ve been making masks since March,” Shalo said. “We sell them for $10 apiece and donate proceeds to The Economy Shop.” He strives to make Kribi a community-minded coffee shop.

Building community also extends to his family’s coffee farm in Cameroon. “We’re working with other farms in the area to produce and sell a select blend. We are using a tribal mask from my village as our logo.” Image is crucial to a brand and Shalo is fortunate that his son, Jeremiah, is a professional designer.

“Dad, I got this,” Jeremiah said, when Shalo launched the shop and needed a designer. Jeremiah designed the shop’s logo and menus. He focused on every detail of the shop, including the display of their merchandise.

These trappings aside, it’s the coffee that makes the shop unique. “We use a patented electric air process to roast small batches,” Shalo explained. “We roast at the point of consumption to make sure the coffee is fresh.” Kribi’s coffee could be called “farm to cup.”

They kept to their original vision for the shop but the lockdown has been hard on Kribi. Shalo gets the capital he needs from his partner, Dr. David Heinz, who lives across the street from him in Oak Park. He also has a small warehouse equipped with a roaster that sells directly to customers. Shalo anticipates that being promoted on the Illinois Made website will increase his sales.

Like Kribi Coffee, Danche Guitars is a father-son enterprise. The owner, Ivanovic Danche, receives valuable technical assistance from his son, Goran Ivanovic. Besides helping his dad out at the shop, Ivanovic is a renowned musician who has played guitar in venues ranging from coffee shops to Carnegie Hall. Being a performer gives him a unique perspective on selecting which guitars to stock.

“I work with brands directly and advise manufacturers about what kinds of guitars to make,” Ivanovic explained. “We discuss what kind of wood to use, the size of the guitar and its design.” He works with two Chinese companies that produce high-end guitars for performers and affordable guitars for students. Danche Guitars caters to beginners as well as virtuosos.

Father and son make a good team because Danche concentrates on building and repairing guitars, while Ivanovic does the marketing. They sometimes benefit from free advertising. The TV show Empire used the shop as a location last October. Danche had his photograph taken with the show’s star, Terrence Howard, and the shop still displays the “Moishe’s Music Shop” sign from that episode.

Danche Guitars was also spotlighted on Chicago Tonight in June. They ran a 15-minute segment focused on Danche building guitars. Now the Illinois Made website will further promote the shop. They need all the help they can get because the pandemic hit them hard. They were closed in April and May and lost 75 percent of their sales.

They had three teachers when the crisis hit. But by the time they applied for a PPE loan, they had no employees and their application was denied. They have since recovered to a great extent. The rebound in sales was partly due to the pandemic. “We’re selling guitars to people working out of their homes,” Ivanovic said, “These are beginner instruments that are high-quality.”

The pandemic, though, has cost the shop sales with performers. “They aren’t upgrading with high-end guitars because their gigs have been cancelled.” Ivanovic knows how this feels. After playing with groups in the U.S. and abroad for 15 years, most of his performances have been cancelled. He’s spending his time filming videos for the shop’s website, demonstrating various guitars and amps.

He believes their shop was chosen for the award because of its family feel and personal attention to customers. “We’re also the only shop to offer models that can’t be found anywhere else,” Ivanovic said. “We have the same prices as Guitar Center and Amazon, but we do custom set-ups for customers, providing the strings and action they want.”

He predicts the shop will continue its bounce-back. “My dad is very personable with customers. They get to check out guitars in person. Customers will go back to in-person purchases instead of ordering on-line.”

And when customers do walk into Kribi Coffee and Danche Guitars, they might spot a plaque certifying that both are Illinois Makers.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.