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Army vets' longtime friendship brews up business to benefit Evanston community

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Posted at 8:31 PM, Nov 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 21:54:58-05

Cream and sugar are two things many people put in their coffee; it’s also the name of a coffee shop at the corner of Brewster Avenue and Montgomery Road in Evanston with a focus on community.

“We were pretty set on it,” said Taren Kinebrew. “We walked in and were like 'we can do this.'”

Taren co-owns the coffee shop with Crystal Grace. The two have been friends since their days at Withrow High School in the '80s.

“We met I was in the ninth grade and Taren was in the 10th and we met at new student orientation,” recalled Grace. “We just bonded and pretty much stayed together from there.”

“She couldn’t get rid of me. She was my first friend,” said Kinebrew.

Not only were they instant friends, they both followed similar paths after graduating high school by entering military service.

“I joined the Army in 1988 and that’s where I started my career in the military,” said Grace.

Kinebrew joined the Army National Guard in her senior year. It was something that almost didn’t happen.

“I almost didn’t make the minimum weight. I was a pound above. They told me, 'You cannot lose weight,' and I was like 'I’m trying to gain weight,'” Kinebrew recalled.

While they both went their separate ways in the service, they kept in touch.

“We never crossed paths until after we both ended our military careers and came back to Cincinnati and reconnected at that time,” said Grace.

Flash forward to 2019 and each had their own thing going. Kinebrew was running Sweet Petite Desserts Company and Grace was running Grace and Grit Spa in Silverton.

“The veterans retraining program is how I got licensed as an esthetician,” said Grace.

But in the middle of the pandemic, the two Army veterans decided to partner up for a new mission.

“Out of the blue I get a phone call from Taren and she says, 'Hey, I think it’s time for us to do something together,'” said Grace.

That call led them to the corner of Montgomery Road and Brewster Avenue, where a former coffee house had closed and sat empty. The idea now was to help the community of Evanston thrive by percolating support for those who live there, local Black artists and women entrepreneurs.

“I was raised in Evanston, been a homeowner here for the past 23 years, so this is my neighborhood, and it’s very important to me that children of color see entrepreneurs that look like them,” said Grace.

While coffee is the headline, their food menu is very deliberate.

“We went plant-based because just in the African American community there’s so many health ailments — high blood pressure, high cholesterol,” Grace said. “We wanted to be the answer to that, instead of the cause of that.”

Both point back to their military service and how it now serves them in so many ways navigating a successful business.

“Just having the discipline knowing in any type of work environment and knowing people are counting on you so you have to do your part,” said Kinebrew.

“My whole foundation of being on time, being disciplined, working hard, was everything I got from the military,” said Grace.

As for the name of the coffeehouse?

“We would always call ourselves salt and pepper, but we didn’t think that would sound too great for a coffee shop,” Kinebrew said. “So she (Grace) was like, 'What about cream and sugar?' and I’m like 'I can roll with that.' It was just a play off our complexion is what it boiled down to."

At this writing, the coffee house is closed on Mondays due to staff shortages, but they’re hoping to get staffing back up to normal. You can read more about them both and what their mission is on their website: https://www.creamandsugarcoffeehouse.com/.

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