When Tess Abbasi-Weidler opened the doors to her Folklore Coffee shop for the first time on Dec. 8 in downtown Lemont, there was something of a celebrity guest appearance.
Bigfoot, the legendary creature who may have some ties to the Heritage Quarries, ventured into town to welcome the business to 214 Main St., grab a cup of coffee and take a few not-so elusive photos with fans. Abbasi-Weidler may have been a little star-struck.
“I joke around; I call Bigfoot my boyfriend,” she said. “I love Bigfoot so much.”
In fact, Bigfoot was a big inspiration for Folklore at the suggestion of Abbasi-Weidler’s husband, Justin. He once floated the idea of making the shop all about the type of storytelling traditions that drive legends of cryptozoology and other legends.
At first, Abbasi-Weidler didn’t think it fit the “elevated” ideas she had for the shop, but she came around to seeing the storytelling aspect as a fun theme for a historic village such as Lemont. And Bigfoot’s opening day appearance may not be his last.
“I want to continue that theme of getting Bigfoot out of the Quarries and into the community to greet him and enjoy a cup of coffee while they’re out here,” Abbasi-Weidler said.
Of course, the coffee is key to the experience. And Abbasi-Weidler’s relationship with the beloved and typically caffeinated beverage dates back to her childhood. She grew up drinking coffee with her mother. It was a great way to bond.
“The love for coffee was always there,” Abbasi-Weidler said. “I just didn’t know much about it.”
Coffee became a profession when she turned 18 years old and moved to New York.
“I was a broke college student and needed a part-time job, so I picked one up at the local coffee shop,” she said. “That’s where I got my first real introduction to specialty coffee and fell in love with it.”
She kept working in the industry when she moved back to the Chicago area, including jobs at Metropolis in the Edgewater neighborhood and Tierra in Clarendon Hills. She always wanted to open her own cafe, but after studying fashion design she worked in the bridal business for 10 years.
Then, she decided to choose a different adventure by following that coffee shop dream.
“It was extremely scary,” Abbasi-Weidler said. “I don’t come from a line of entrepreneurs. I’ve never met anyone who has built their own business from the ground up.”
But once she started talking about the business plan, friends who had friends who knew someone kept putting her in touch with people who were able to provide guidance.
“It was really good to meet those connections,” Abbasi-Weidler said. “Just really making sure that I checked my ego at the door and taught myself to learn and grow from other people and ask for help when needed — if I didn’t learn how to do that, I think it would have taken a lot longer to get my doors open.”
Abbasi-Weidler incorporated some of her design expertise when decorating Folklore Coffee Shop. And her husband, mom, sisters and brother were there whenever she needed support to get across the finish line.
“I truly would not have been able to open as fast as I did without my family,” Abbasi-Weidler said. “Having that family help and support was the entire world to me.”
To Abbasi-Weidler, who has lived in Lemont for roughly 6 years, the village seemed like the perfect spot for her business.
“I love Lemont,” she said. “I love the community. I love that everyone really does want to rally around the small businesses in this particular area. It’s a very supportive community, and it was a community that was in need of a coffee shop.”
She sourced Folklore’s specialty tea offerings from Benjamin Tea, a Chicago-based company. Folklore’s pastries come from Honey Fluff Donuts in Countryside — with the croissant doughnuts quickly gaining a following, according to Abbasi-Weidler.
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For its pièce de résistance, Folklore worked with the roastery Whirlwind Coffee to source its beans, in part because of the quality of the product and in part because the Oak Park company gives 100% of its net profits back to charities and communities. Together, they spent a few months collaborating on a house blend.
“I love a medium bodied coffee with low to no acidity, so that’s how our house blend is,” Abbasi-Weidler said. “To me it tastes like a chocolate-covered acai berry. Some people get a raspberry jam from it — something that’s a little sweet, a little chocolaty, a little nutty is what I love.”
Though, Abbasi-Weidler said customers are more than welcome to ask for it dressed up any way they like. Her menu also includes 4-5 drinks that rotate seasonally.
“Ultimately, we are a judgment-free zone here,” she said. “If you want to order your coffee with a million different fixings in it, I will never judge you. … Do you love it? If the answer is yes, then you have made my day, and I’m so happy to have been a small part of that piece of joy in your life.”
Abbasi-Weidler said that opening day was “overwhelming” in the best way possible. In the midst of the holidays, people who have been away at college have come back and supported her local business. She has watched families gathering over coffee — their stories and Folklore’s intertwining to create new memories.
“It was a really special moment for me to see other families choose Folklore coffee as the place to get together and hang out,” Abbasi-Weidler said.
Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.