The Alternate Universe of Melissa Stinson’s Everybody’s Busy


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Located in a large warehouse building in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago is a coffee experience like no other. 

To get to Everybody’s Busy, you have to climb up four flights of stairs and traverse a maze of white walls and metal doors. As you open the door to the space, you’re immediately met with the smell of incense as owner Melissa Stinson welcomes you into a room adorned with art pieces like custom skateboard decks, colorful photography, and other pop art. 

Coffee table books on music, photography, fashion, film, and television are stacked against the walls and on shelves. Music plays as you walk in, maybe hip-hop or pop; it’s never the same, as Stinson will tell you. The space, which you can only visit by making a reservation, feels like Stinson’s living room, but a neon sign glowing in front of a bright red La Marzocco espresso machine reminds you that you’re here for a cup of coffee. 

Everybody’s Busy is not a coffee shop; it’s a coffee experience, and even that description feels reductive. Visiting Everybody’s Busy is not about the coffee—although the coffees are meticulously curated by Stionson—but about slowing down. The shop’s name refers to a common claim many of us make: that we’re “too busy” for things, but Stinson pushes back on that. 

She points to how people often deprioritize certain things but make time for others, like how you might feel too busy to sit and have a coffee inside a shop but will wait in line to take it to go. For Stinson, slowing down over a cup of coffee and chatting is what she hopes people will use their time when they come to Everybody’s Busy. 

Stinson, who worked as a costume designer for film and television in New York before moving back to her hometown of Chicago, intentionally keeps the menu at Everybody’s Busy small: during our visit, the only options were a pour over, an Americano, or an oat milk and brown sugar cappuccino. “You can get a latte anywhere,” she jokes. Coming to Everybody’s Busy, located in the Mana Contemporary building, isn’t about getting your coffee and jetting off, but for Stinson to share what she loves, to engage with others, and to build an experience around drinking coffee.  

We visited Everybody’s Busy during the 2024 Specialty Coffee Expo in Chicago. Afterward, we followed up with Stinson to learn why she opened a coffee space, how her rebellious spirit informs her choices, and how she bucks expectations to craft a unique and original coffee experience for patrons. 

What compelled you to get into coffee?

I am an only child, so I look at it like, “No one is going to do it like me.” If they can, that’s great. But there are places where you just have that feeling of, “I don’t think this is gonna be good,” and that’s okay. Instead of complaining, I decided to figure it out. 

I haven’t mastered one type of medium. I’m a Jane of all trades. So, for me, coffee was my vehicle for committing to the rest of my artistic ability and the ultimate way of expressing something. Like, okay, you’re going to have a cup of coffee with me, and then I have lots more to say and share. Instead of making a t-shirt—which I tried to do before—I use coffee as that vehicle to get you.

I have lots to offer, but how do you get people in the door or get people to pay attention to you? I figured I could use coffee to get there. I’m a creative at heart, and whatever the medium, I’m always expressing myself through clothes, painting, photography, or whatever.

I figured if I’m going to start something, I need to learn how to do it, adapt, and make it my own. I got a coffee brewing kit, started figuring it out, and went from there. But I also realized I don’t have the bandwidth to go super deep into the beans. For me, it’s either “This is good” or “This is not good.” I’ll try something else if I don’t like it. It’s that simple.

I approach coffee from a creative standpoint, but everyone in the industry was so serious. I just wanted to enjoy it. I can be serious, but I just wanted something that translated to others. Sometimes coffee isn’t good. But why do you need to be serious about it? 

Do you mean that sometimes the industry can be too serious? Or maybe too prescriptive? Predictable? 

Correct. I think I’m naturally rebellious. I had to learn how to make things my own so I could enjoy them. When I did things the way I was told to do them, they didn’t make sense to me. I’d think, “What does it matter if I didn’t do things like you did?” If the end result is good, it doesn’t matter how I got there. 

You can make mistakes when you’re making things for yourself. You can f**k up as many times as you want to. I mean, it’s just coffee—and that’s no disrespect to those people who are really into it and the science of it. Of course, we need you. It’s just that, for me, I’m bringing a different approach. I really appreciate the simplicity of coffee. Coffee is complicated, but you can make it simple and make it fun.

I like to say I’m part of the renegade crew of disruptors in the industry. I operate from two approaches: how do I make coffee relatable, and how do I put myself out there? I’m still figuring it out, but for me, Everybody’s Busy came about because I just didn’t feel or see what I was looking for culturally. 

The Everybody’s Busy menu is minimal. How did you decide what you wanted to offer? 

There’s no rhyme or reason—it’s just a feeling. It’s just like I have no idea what music I’m putting on in the morning, but I know I will, and I know I’ll drink coffee. 

Sometimes, I like to mix it up. That’s how I do everything. It’s good and bad. Sometimes, music might bring me in, and coffee might bring me in. I’m not a latte person. I’m a pour over person, and sometimes I’m an Americano person. Every day is different, so I won’t try to do the same thing every day. 

In a sense, the way I work here is how the appointments go. No one knows what to expect, and you know what? I don’t know what to expect either. 

I’m sure people have certain expectations when they visit Everybody’s Busy. They might expect the same things they see in other coffee shops. How do you work around those expectations?

I think it’s the way the world works and how we’re taught. There are no challenges. So, of course, you think coffee—it’s a coffee shop. Here, lots of folks come in and go, “Wait a minute.” A customer recently came in and said, “This is kind of like an alternative universe.” 

It’s so hard when I’m trying to describe it. But I think we’re so used to, like, if I’m going to have spaghetti, I’m going to have meatballs. But the truth is maybe it’s spaghetti with shrimp. It’s kind of like that here—it’s coffee, but it’s not. 

What do you want people to know about Everybody’s Busy? 

Everybody’s Busy is very much a destination shop. I get visitors who say, “I want a different experience. I don’t want the typical Chicago experience.” 

People come here and meet people they weren’t expecting to meet. I see people who meet at Everybody’s Busy for the first time and say, “Let’s stay in contact.” That’s a very intimate thing. How else do people make friends because you’re not making them at work? Your work friends are not your friends, and your boss is not your friend.

That’s how I’m trying to break through the industry. Break through it and make a path. 

I don’t talk about community because I am the community. I don’t talk about culture because I am the culture. I’m doing something that you used to get in your households with your grandparents and your aunties, your dads. I’m not a parent, but I’m the parent of the group I’m creating. 

At the end of the day, I just want to find a way forward. You can give everything into something, and then you have to learn to blow it up. “I used to do this, but now I’m doing this.” I never thought I was going to end up in this, and I still don’t know if I want to end up here, but I’m adding layers as I go along. 

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Lydia Stolper

Based in Austin, Texas, with her family, including three cats and a dog, Lydia has loved coffee for as long as she can remember. In her free time, Lydia loves listening to audiobooks, traveling when she can, and visiting as many coffee shops as possible.

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