Serving Up Science

Appears in the June 2023 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Smarty Pants Café is proving to be a successful experiment

Michael Kandah at Smart Pants Café

If he built it, maybe they’d come. That was the wish that finally prompted Michael Kandah, a longtime union electrician, to cut the proverbial cord and open up his own coffee shop in March in Batavia. He knew he’d cooked up a heck of a hook: a science-themed coffee shop. (Perhaps, one of the only coffee-shop concepts left unclaimed.) And he’d even word-smithed a catchy name: Smarty Pants Café.

But what he really hoped is that they would come. That is, not just customers but Kandah’s version of Field of Dreams–like heroes: Astronomers. Biologists. Botanists. Physicists. Zoologists. And the like.

He’s hoping area scientists of every discipline will drop in, like comedians on open-mic night, and present free lectures. And that science-based meet-up groups will gather in his cozy shop to sip hot drinks and soak up knowledge. “I used to attend astronomy meet-up lectures [in Chicago],” Kandah says, “but they were a bit cold and sterile for me.”

He wanted a place with warmth. So he sampled brews from a variety of local coffee roasters before choosing Café Umbria to handle the java and espresso and Silverland Bakery in Forest Park to supply its gluten-free snack bars. Nevertheless, Kandah remained unsure whether his hypothesis—namely, that there really were other inquisitive souls like him in the galaxy that needed a hangout—would be proven true.

Turns out, it was. Science lovers have answered the call, like the man from South Barrington who offered to donate a priceless edition of Isaac Newton’s Mathematica to Kandah’s onsite science library. Not to mention the throngs of junior scientists-in-training who’ve come from all over to sip tea and stare at his poster of celestial skyscapes.

Kandah hopes his little café, like the universe itself, will keep expanding. But mostly, he’s just happy knowing there’s a place where the curious among us can still gather and unpeel the mysteries of the natural world, one engaging discussion—and otherworldly cup of coffee—at a time.


Photo: Michael Kandah