New Café Features Arabic Goodies

Appears in the April 2024 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Inside MOTW Coffee and Pastry

The crowds seemed to materialize, every single weekend, out of nowhere, like teenagers in search of Taylor Swift tickets. Not one or two curious souls, but dozens of coffee and chai lovers, eager for a taste of Sajjad Shah’s warm drinks and even more heartwarming message.

This was back in January, weeks before the new MOTW Coffee and Pastry (109 S. Main St.) in Lombard actually opened for business. Shah, who launched his first MOTW coffee shop in Indiana in 2021, was touched by their support but had to tactfully inform all his early-bird supporters that they’d come bit too soon. MOTW’s staff still needed to be schooled on how prepare chai the MOTW way, using Yemeni recipe and techniques passed down, generation after generation, through the family of Shah’s wife, Fatimah. The first shipments of its beloved baklava, prepared in a small bakery in Dearborn, Michigan, had yet to be made. Latte tutorials were still being perfected, since MOTW whips up flavor combos—date-cardamom syrups or vanilla lavender—you can’t find anywhere else.

It all began with a mission to combat negativity and share inspiring stories when Shah launched an Instagram account called Muslims of the World—MOTW for short—about a decade ago. The page (now with 700,000 followers) illuminated the lives of members of the Islamic faith from all across the globe. The response, from believers and nonbelievers alike, made people feel so good that Shah wanted to create a business that preserved those sentiments. One evening, while enjoying his wife’s desserts, the answer appeared to him: Why not celebrate some of the pleasures of the Islamic table—specifically its love of coffees and hot drinks and sweet pastries—by launching an MOTW coffee shop?

One location turned into two, then three, then four in Indiana. His newest location in Lombard is his first foray into Illinois. Something about the fundamental concept of MOTW strikes a chord, which may explain the shops’ wide popularity. “Back in Indiana, we have a group of Christian girls who gather for a Bible study,” Shah says, “at a coffee shop called Muslims of the World—what does that tell you?”


Photo: Jen Banowetz