It was 1983 when Nick Redondo, then a deck officer stationed on the USS Iwo Jima off the coast of Lebanon, realized he wanted to open a coffee shop in his lifelong home of Friendship.

Nearly 35 years later, JoAnn and Nick Redondo have renovated a former 19th-century home and market at the corner of Friendship and S. Pacific avenues and turned it into a neighborhood gathering place: Friendship Perk and Brew.

“We didn’t want to be a bar,” says Redondo. “We wanted to create a place where you could get something good to eat and meet with family and friends.” If you’re interested in libations, though, they do have a few beers on tap.

JoAnn handles the kitchen and administrative matters, while Nick handles the front of house, simultaneously playing the role of maître d’, waiter and resident storyteller.

In the late ’60s, when Nick was in 8th grade, he worked at the space as a stockboy when it was Margolis’s Market. His father bought the building in 1979 and leased it to 7-Eleven, and more recently a liquor store, which many considered a nuisance to the surrounding residential neighborhood.

Photo by Brian Conway.

The space is decorated with black and white photos of the East End from the 1920s and 1930s. A gas log fireplace sits at the center of the dining room, which fits about 40.

The menu is heavy on salads, soups and sandwiches. Coffee comes from Kiva Han in Cranberry, and there are about a half dozen beers on draft, most of them local.

“Everything we can we make ourselves,” says Redondo, from the meatballs and fried pickles to homemade wedding soup “made the real Italian way” — with escarole, not spinach.

The interior was designed by Cullen & Associates, and North Shore Renovators handled the buildout.

“I’m excited it’s here,” says local resident, Chuck Gianakas. “I live in Friendship, so the kids walk up and get ice cream, or I can grab a sandwich and a beer with buddies. It’s just great.”

No one seems to be more excited than Nick, who greets most customers by name. He first moved to the area as a child in 1959, across the street from Perk and Brew’s location at 300 S. Pacific Avenue. He still lives just a block away and can tell you about how he and friends used to chase after the milk truck for ice and how they’d feed carrots and celery to the fruit huckster’s horse.

“It’s a great neighborhood,” he says. “You’ll have to carry me out in a body bag, ’cause I’m not leaving.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated Friendship Perk and Brew was located on S. Atlantic Avenue. It’s on S. Pacific. We’ve updated the story.

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.