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After Serial Burglaries, Oak Lawn Coffee Says They Are Being Tested

A piece of plywood covers the shattered door at Oak Lawn Coffee.EXPAND
A piece of plywood covers the shattered door at Oak Lawn Coffee.
Paige Skinner

Once again, someone broke into Oak Lawn Coffee on Tuesday night. The two baristas who opened the independent coffee shop Wednesday found rocks and a shattered door frame. Inside, digital tablets used for a loyalty program had been taken.

This is the fourth time that the establishment has been targeted by thieves since 2016.

The shop reopened with a piece of plywood replacing the missing glass, and the staff have theories on why this keeps happening. One barista offers that she thinks it’s because they are a Christian coffee shop, but her co-worker quickly says, “We’re not a Christian coffee shop, though.”

Ben Hernandez, operator of Oak Lawn Coffee, struggles with what to say. Oak Lawn Coffee is not a Christian coffee shop, he agrees. One distinction he notes is that the business is definitely run for profit, although it donates 10 percent of its profits to various charities. Hernandez says fellow Christians are certainly drawn to work there, but is adamant that it's not a requirement.

Hernandez says there is always something hindering the store’s progress. “There’s always a lot of backlash when you start making progress, when you start changing people’s lives, when you start advancing forward. A lot of Christians see it in their everyday life,” he says. “There’s opposition for every breakthrough. And as a business, we've made a lot of breakthroughs.”

At the beginning of 2017, he says he started praying for the store to profit and profits quadrupled. He likewise sees the break-ins as a test of his resolve. “I don’t want to sound like a kooky Christian,” he says. “But there’s something definitely dark about the burglary.”

On Tuesday night before the burglary occurred, Hernandez met with the store’s staff for a meeting, which concluded when a friend prayed over the team. After it ended, as Hernandez locked both doors, he says he had a brief thought. "In my head, I was like, 'I bet this door is going to be broken into,’” he says. At 5:27 a.m. the next morning, he got the call that it happened.

Prepared for such an event from previous bitter experience, he immediately went to his garage to grab a piece of plywood to cover the door.

Hernandez tries to use the tenets of his religion to enable Oak Lawn Coffee to stand out among its competitors. He instructs staff to learn the names of repeat customers, look them in the eye and engage in some friendly conversation.

Customers don’t seem to be fazed by the burglary. The coffeeshop was full Wednesday morning, with all its parking spaces full. The two baristas working don't seem rattled, but Hernandez says there is quiet anger in regulars and staff.

"Some people are angry for us,” Hernandez says. “This is home. I've seen people come in single, get married, have kids, and then they come in with their kids. I've seen lives form around this place. It's part of their lives. It's like someone breaking into your grandma's house.”

Hernandez says he is working with the surrounding businesses to install cameras. Until then, he filed a police report, but on this stormy morning there's not much else they can do but serving customers.

“The rain has historically been a symbol for change of a season,” he says. "I just really felt the Lord tell me this is a new season. This is not what the season is going to be about. This is not what's going to happen to us. This is a pushback to keep me in the dark, to keep me frustrated."

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