Complimentary Cafe Owners Noor Alkhawaja and Riyaz Ali are Sipping On Success


By Anna Lusson, Staff Writer

New cafe owners and long-time Chicago area residents Noor Alkhawaja and Riyaz Ali recently opened Complimentary Cafe this past February, only a mile away from Niles West in Skokie. Having a very friendly and cozy environment, Complimentary Cafe is a great place to get work done, meet friends, and enjoy mocktails, lattes, pastries, and more. When ordering a drink, make sure to look out for a personally written compliment on your cup, an idea that stemmed from the owners feel-good nature and has become the cafe’s signature.

The intention was that the compliments [are] something to let people know they look good so that they feel good, and are sipping on something also just as good. Initially, it will be live, like I see you and I love your eyes and I just write ‘your eyes are so mesmerizing.’ As traffic started picking up, we found that it’s easier to pre-write really meaningful compliments and affirmations. I encourage my employees to write down whatever they want to hear that day, and I feel that that resonates with customers the most. And then, you know, being selective about the compliments, like, you’re not going to give some like dude a compliment that says ‘girlboss’,” Alkhawaja said. 

This idea, which sparked the name of the place, came about in 2020. “It started off with just us wanting to serve the Muslim community or even communities that don’t drink, we wanted to serve them mocktails that were affordable. So it started off as just the idea of wanting to make that more available for people, and just us loving coffee and wanting kind of a space for people to get together and gather,” Alkhawaja said. After picking the location because of the proximity to their own home and the lack of coffee shops in downtown Skokie, the two started designing a brand. “I reached out to my sister who’s a graphic designer and I talked to her about the logo and what I wanted it to represent. So it’s a bean but also hands so they’re coming together – the concept of giving and receiving,” said Alkhawaja.

To put this plan into action, a lot of work has to be done that customers normally don’t see on the surface. Some of the tasks Alkhawaja and Riyaz do daily include scheduling, reaching out to different companies, developing the menu, training employees, and creating a welcoming environment. “Just trying to improve and present ourselves as best as we can to consumers. We try to make the place look nice because we want people to feel good when they come in here,” Ali said. Naturally, the cafe faces struggles too, including finding good quality food vendors, training employees, and meeting customer expectations.  However, Complimentary Cafe is still met with great enthusiasm from customers. 

“My friend and I go to Complimentary Cafe frequently because we love the environment and the kindness of the people that work there,” junior Afra Abdul said.  

The cafe’s proximity to Niles West, along with other schools such as Lincoln Jr. High and Oakton Community College has been a game changer with many students bringing the cafe success. The owners have also used these nearby places for opportunities as well. “Anything when it comes to schools or non-profits, or people that are maybe struggling in some way, or something like that, we try to work with them in any capacity,” Ali said. Make sure to look out for student discounts!

With finals season approaching, Complimentary Cafe is a great place to get a good cram session in. If you’re looking for good recommendations, Alkhawaja recommends the caramel shaken espresso and lavender vanilla latte. Ali recommends the honey black seed latte.

One thing that Complimentary Cafe prides themselves on is the quality of their menu items. “If you go look at all of our ingredients it’s natural, so we try to get high quality products because people can just taste it. For example we aren’t going to work with like a huge company that sends us empanadas, we’re working with a small company from Morton Grove. We’re working with a woman from Deerfield for our cake, we’re working with a person from Indiana for our cookies and he bakes it out of a church. So it’s all these feel good stories,” Ali said. 

Moving forward, Alkhawaja and Ali have many goals for the future. More locations and menu items, more events, and more eco-friendly materials are all things that may be coming to Complimentary Cafe in the future, but their biggest goal is consistency. “Me and her always say this to each other: our biggest priority is basically  being consistent with what you do. So the drink should taste the same, the food should taste the same, the place, and you know everything should be consistent. It shouldn’t be like you come in here and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad,” Ali said. 

Alkhawaja and Ali met in college at Elmhurst University during a communications course. The two bonded over coffee and tried different coffee shops together, a hobby they still enjoy doing. They also enjoy cooking together, watching TV, and going on walks. “We love our walks. Forest preserve walks with coffee – that’s our thing for sure,” said Ali.

Alkhawaja is also an English teacher, so balancing work comes as an extra challenge. . However, the work they do is their passion. “I think that owning a business comes with a lot of hobbies if you like doing it. I think we both – as much as we sometimes get drained from it – we both love coming here, and both love being involved. I’ll think of an idea maybe and then you know it’ll be perfect, and then she’ll [Alkhawaja] make it even better and then before you know it it’s something that people really, really want to do,” Ali said.