By Adrienne Fawcett
Hometown Coffee & Juice opened in Lake Forest in May -- and it only took three hours for the place to seem like it had been in town forever.
Without any advertising or social media promotions, word of the café’s debut traveled quickly. It’s usually humming with activity all day long.
Julie and Lou Rubin provide a warm vibe and quality products at Hometown Coffee & Juice.
Where were people in Lake Forest hanging out before Hometown opened? With two Starbucks in town plus locally owned coffee shops in Lake Bluff and Highwood, the area is not short on places to get a cup of coffee. But Hometown isn’t just a coffee shop or juice bar.
For one, it serves breakfast, lunch and snack fare, from smoothies, pastries and bagels to sandwiches, salads and specialty toasts and bowls. There’s also a wholesome, happy vibe, from the welcoming greetings of the staff when you enter to the table place holders that are outfitted in Lake Forest street names.
Hometown is brightly lit, with white-painted walls and ample natural light (even on a cloudy day) from the building’s many windows. It’s in the spot on Wisconsin Avenue that was once home to Caputo Cheese Market and later Visconti Cheese Market & Deli. Now with the big, refrigerated cheese cases and deli counter gone, the place feels warmer, and seating has increased substantially.
The café’s welcoming feel is the intent of owners Lou and Julie Rubin.
“At the end of the day we ask ourselves, ‘How do people feel when they walk out of here?’ For us, it’s about creating a feeling, and building emotional connections and memories that never go away,” Lou said.
“Our people are our product, and our product is our people,” adds Julie. “If you come to a café and someone is not nice to you, you won’t come back. We take pride in our staff’s friendliness and the overall customer experience.”
In addition to the warm vibe, quality ingredients are at the heart of Hometown’s mission. The cafe serves La Columbe coffee, hand-pressed juices with fresh produce and salad dressings made from scratch. Deli meats are the Boar’s Head brand.
The Rubins came to the café business by way of different careers. Lou was a mortgage broker who had an office above – and was a frequent visitor to – Glencoe Roast in the heart of downtown Glencoe. Julie started her working life as a teacher and for a time worked in food and beverage for the public golf course in Michigan that her parents run. When the Rubins’ son and daughter were young, she worked a few days each week at Material Possessions, a home décor store in Winnetka.
In 2016, Lou got a taste of entrepreneurialism when he helped their son, Adam, (then 16) launch Mr. Chill, a shaved ice food cart that turned out to be hugely popular at sidewalk sales, music fests and downtown Glencoe.
It was while serving shaved ice to a long line of youngsters that Lou had an epiphany. “I realized that this is how I want to feel in my daily life,” he said.
Just what was/is that feeling?
“Joy,” he says. “It’s a joyful feeling to see people come in with excitement about something that wasn’t here before. I like creating experiences for people.”
In 2018, Lou negotiated to purchase Glencoe Roast with the vision of activating a busy downtown corner. The Rubins renovated the space and rebranded as Hometown Coffee & Juice. A year later, they expanded and added a full kitchen. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, they were ready with an app for take-out dining and ample outdoor seating. They opened a Hometown in Winnetka in 2021 and Lake Forest this spring.
Do the Rubins aim to put a Hometown in every town in the Chicago suburbs – and beyond?
“Our goal is to steadily grow our company by selecting prime spots in the heart of small, tight-knit communities,” Lou said.