A Pick-Me-Up For Whenever You’re Feeling Blue

How a neighborhood coffee shop navigates a world of corporate competitors and keeps its loyal clientele coming back.


Mia Hatcher

Blue Line offers a wide assortment of beverage and food options, including the best coffee / espresso drinks in the city and delicious pastries that are baked on-site every day.

As businesses come and go in the Dundee area, one fixture has been holding down its spot near the corner of 50th and Underwood nearly 20 years. A home away from home for many, Blue Line Coffee Shop provides smiles, good conversation, and a fabulous cup of coffee to all who enter its doors.

In September 2022, Blue Line changed ownership from Chris McClellan, who opened the business back in August 2003, to Jess McCallie, a businesswoman and long time service industry worker. When Jess caught wind of Blue Line’s potential closing—as the lease was up and Chris wanted to move on to a different chapter—she called him and inquired about taking over the business. Now, half a year after the ownership transition, Blue Line is still standing strong, providing the same safe space and quality service to customers as it enters its third decade of business.

It was living in the sterile world our planners have created that brought the message [of needing third places] home.

— Sociologist Ray Oldenburg

Blue Line provides a comfortable atmosphere where patrons enjoy spending hours in conversation. (Mia Hatcher)

In 1989, sociologist Ray Oldenburg published an influential book titled The Great Good Place that highlights the importance of “third places” that are distinguished from home and work/school and where relationships among the patrons and employees are of the utmost importance. These third places can be restaurants, community centers, or general stores, but for many people they are cafés and coffee shops like Blue Line.

Blue Line’s placement in the walkable neighborhood of Dundee adds further value to its status as a “great good place” for many of its loyal patrons, especially those who choose to live in a part of town with higher population density (i.e. not the suburban or exurban parts of the city) and easier access to other businesses nearby. In fact, a couple of times a year Dr. Low and his AP English Language and Composition class will make the walk from BT up to Blue Line for a writing workshop made all the more productive by the coffee and pastries they enjoy while working. Junior Frida Silva appreciates the decor and overall ambience of Blue Line. “When I walk in, I know that I’m in a place where I can get a lot of work done, and also enjoy the company of the other customers in the store,” she said. Junior Cameron Maxwell reported that “the food is good. My favorite item to order is the blueberry scone.”

Dr. Low’s AP writing class has visits Blue Line periodically for writing workshops. (Mia Hatcher)

Junior Anna Khan agreed about the scones: “They are baked to just the right crispness, while still being soft and chewy in the center.” Cameron also likes to order the caramel cappuccino, which is ”just the right blend of sweetness with a coffee kick!” Whenever she visits, junior Sidra Miller orders the tropical smoothie. “Most people think of warm caffeinated beverages when they think of a coffee shop, but I find that they do a great job with their cold drinks as well,” she stated. 

For those who have been visiting Blue Line since it first opened in the early 2000s, its no-frills approach and commitment to quality over quantity has long been a major part of its appeal. The pastries are baked on-site, and the coffee selections are mindfully chosen based upon how they have been grown and where they have been sourced, including many that are fair trade and organic, along with those—like the Ethiopian varietal—that come from women-owned co-operatives. The tables are just the right size for spreading out and doing some work, and the solid wooden chairs were once used in classrooms at UNO. Along with free wi-fi, one of the new additions since Jess took on ownership of the business is a printer that customers are free to use if they need to print out school work, resumes, or other documents that they’ve been working on while they enjoy their coffee.

Prior to owning Blue Line, Jess gained service industry experience through bartending and waiting, ultimately setting herself up for success when it came to owning a business. When conversing with Jess, she elaborated about her hopes to keep Blue Line the same, incredible place its always been: “I trust myself to keep it Blue Line, nothing different or more expensive. Some people aren’t even aware the transition [of ownership] happened.” Making sure the staff is taken care of is Jess’ top priority, and it is reflected in the service provided to customers: top notch. From memorizing every customer’s drink order to sparking up personal conversation, each member of the Blue Line community is connected.

Many young girls and women hope to follow Jess’ path, starting or running their own business someday and doing it successfully. When asked what her biggest piece of advice is to women who aspire to be businesswomen or entrepreneurs, Jess said “just do it.” Regardless of someone’s financial standing or backup plans, going out of the comfort zone is critical when starting a business or getting into the service industry: “Money doesn’t have to hold you back. Not everyone has resources or safety nets, but it isn’t as big of a leap as it might seem.”

Jess serves as a model to many young girls and women in the Dundee community and beyond, proving that you can do anything you set your mind to.