Posted on: April 9, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Jessica Alcordo

JRN 111 Student

Matt Mullen is brewing something big, and it’s not coffee.

Behind the coffee beans, Mullen, co-owner of Strange Brew, is focused on providing a place for the different cultures of Palos Hills to connect.

“If you want to get deep with it,” Mullen stated, “coffee is pretty neutral across the board. At the end of the day every culture drinks coffee. Our customer base reflects the diverse demographic of the area. We appeal to everybody. We give the community a place to come together.”

Currently, COVID-19 has brought togetherness to a halt. Despite the volume of business drastically decreasing and the cancellation of Strange Brew’s upcoming events, Mullen has handled it with grace.

“Now more than ever is when we need a strong sense of community,” Mullen said. “We’re thankful for all of the continuous support we have and just want everyone to stay healthy.”

For the time being, the Palos Hills location will remain open for pick-up and delivery orders with adjusted hours.

“Healthy habits are a priority right now,” Mullen said, “and we want to continue to make healthy eating an easy option for people in our area. We’re lucky we live in an Uber Eats era.”

While Mullen prides himself on fresh roasted coffee and a health-conscious menu, Strange Brew is more of a community than just a standard cafe.

“It’s about finding that balance,” Mullen said, “and that’s what really makes us, us.”

Mullen is big on balance. At just 28 years old, he balances himself between barista, business owner, and part-time drummer.

“I’ve been drumming for almost 16 years now,” Mullen began. He reminisced on the time he played at the House of Blues and the different bands he’s hopped in and out of.

“There was a time I was actually in four different bands at once,” Mullen said.

“Now more than ever is when we need a strong sense of community.”

Matt Mullen, owner of Strange Brew

Neighbors You Know, the indie rock band he is currently drumming for, most recently played at Cole’s Bar in Logan Square. 

Drummer by night and barista by morning, Mullen manages both Strange Brew locations on 103rd and South 88th Ave. in Palos Hills and in the G building at Moraine Valley.

The seed for Strange Brew began when Mullen worked for a tech company in Chicago. He came across many eccentric and cozy cafes in the city that gave him creative spaces to work. But because he grew up in the Oak Lawn area and later moved to Palos Hills, Mullen wanted a cafe like this close to home.

“I realized there was a big market for places like this and I always thought this would be a good spot and somebody should do that,” Mullen said.

Don’t let the flannels and the baseball caps fool you: Matt Mullen is as bold as the coffee he brews.  With no prior coffee knowledge before opening Strange Brew, Mullen crafted his business and crafted himself into a skilled barista, simultaneously.

Mullen knew one thing prior to opening Strange Brew: “I knew there was good coffee and bad coffee.”

“Once we got that thing,” Mullen said, as he pointed to the baby blue espresso machine that hissed and gurgled as the milk frothed, “the first thing I was learning to do was pull espresso shots.”

Before the coffee, Mullen had experience brewing his own beer. Strange Brew was originally meant to be a brewery. This is where the name Strange Brew comes from: the idea of brewing both coffee and beer in the same establishment.

For now, Strange Brew is sticking to the coffee track, but always keeping room for growth. One of Mullen’s favorite parts about his business is that there is always something new for him. He is one to get bored easily and enjoys the hunt of the next big thing.

“I like building businesses,” Mullen said with full confidence. “It keeps me busy.”

He helped build Packback, an online discussion board for college students. Once the business was up and running, Mullen lost interest.

As with the menu he curated for Strange Brew, Mullen likes to start from scratch, always full of fresh ingredients and bold new ideas. Mullen combines his psychology major and business minor from Illinois State University to create the most effective business model.

“Most business people wouldn’t pick this location,” Mullen said about the nook where Strange Brew operates. “It’s hidden away, which I kind of like.”

The location isn’t ideal from a business standpoint, but it is near the library, elementary school and community center. To Mullen, these added more value than a bustling intersection.

Mullen adorns his cafe with local art on the walls and creates a welcoming space for the community to come together. He wanted something new for the area that “isn’t another hot dog joint or chain restaurant.”

So far, the mission for Strange Brew has been a huge success.

Success, to Mullen, has no price tag. Thinking about the most rewarding part of his job, Mullen immediately mentioned the group of runners that come into Strange Brew every Sunday. He described the way the runners congregate and take over the dining space each week. Early this March, the group invited a lone stranger in the cafe to join their conversation.

“The group of runners are mostly white, Polish maybe, and the man was Middle Eastern, and they all came together combining the tables,” Mullen stated, more excited to paint this picture than any other business model of success.

“Watching from behind the bar, these guys were all just laughing hysterically, and I had no idea about what. But the fact that I could see the different cultures come together in a place I provided…yeah, that is the most rewarding.”

Jessica Alcordo can be reached at alcordoj@student.morainevalley.edu.