House Cafe owner hoping to increase number of events after first year
DeKALB – Owning and and operating The House Cafe has had its share of ups and downs, according to Mark Robinson.
Although the business has been near the break-even point as far as revenue over the past year, Robinson said in many ways, the café is looking to expand and be more involved in the community.
“Our mission statement roughly says to provide a space in which people can express their passions and talents,” Robinson said. “We’re just trying to draw on getting people to know we’re here to allow them to do the things they want.”
The House reopened in October 2016 under the ownership of Robinson and his wife, Martha, who owns Martha’s Kitchen, a restaurant in Malta. The previous owner, Alexandra Fausett, announced in August 2016 that the café would close its doors.
The year 2017 started out with a bit of a fiasco for the House, as it struggled to obtain a liquor license. Robinson said the City Council was supposed to make a decision in December, but the matter was pushed back because of the holidays, and even when he obtained the license, there was a hold on it.
“Every little thing seemed to take as long as it possibly could,” Robinson said.
Despite the setbacks, Robinson said working with the DeKalb Police Department has always been positive.
“They have shown a presence and have been nothing but nice to us,” Robinson said. “It’s really important that that relationship exists, because I need them.”
Although there has been interest from the public about the House expanding its alcohol service to more than just beer and wine, Robinson said he wants to preserve the aesthetic of the House, and that adding liquor would require a lot of money in upgrades and training.
“It’s not our main thing,” he said. “We’re a music venue, and we’re more concerned with people coming in here to listen to music, which is why you also don’t see a TV in here.”
The café already offers a variety of musical and non-musical activities, such as swing dance classes, beer yoga and salsa dancing, but one form of entertainment Robinson is excited about expanding is live comedy.
“I love comedy, and I love the idea of having more, so we’re working on doing that,” Robinson.
In August, the House had a sold-out show for comedian Doug Stanhope and will be hosting several other comedians next year, including Brian Posehn. Robinson has also worked with comedians from Chicago to perform at the café. One of them, Pares Ratliff, filmed material that will be used in an upcoming stand-up special.
Drawing more entertainment, however, is not Robinson’s only goal.
“We’ve been really trying to get more involved with community events,” Robinson said.
The House was one of the many businesses that participated in Disability Awareness Month in October by hosting a special open mic and performance art event for people with disabilities. It also co-sponsored a diabetes benefit with Tapa La Luna.
Robinson also hosts home-schooled children at the House to read and do other activities each week.
“We’re working with them to doing more speech programs and things where they’re doing more performing,” he said.
Should he be able to secure tax increment financing contributions, Robinson said he is still interested in allowing another business to use the building’s basement. Andrew Nordman, owner of Cademon Brewing Co., had tried to move into this space this year, but plans fell through after modifications to the building would not provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Outside that, Robinson is also working to connect more with Northern Illinois University and put on events for the students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
“It’s important for us to continually have events,” Robinson said. “There are some things that are in the works that I would like to talk about, but we’re still planning.”
For a list of upcoming events, visit the House Cafe’s Facebook page.