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Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Coffee, conversations and community at Rozz Tox

Benjamin Fawks, owner of Rozz Tox, grabs a Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie which is made of coconut and almond milk for a customer. Photo by Brady Johnson.

Music, film, coffee and conversations all formulate at Rozz Tox. This locally operated coffee shop has been open for seven years and has become a home for everyone. Live music plays regularly from all genres and a variety of films play on multiple cathode ray tube televisions. The dim lighting and inviting setup has been changing constantly over the seven years after Benjamin Fawks and his mother Marisa Sorrells, known as Missy, who unfortunately has recently passed away, opened the business in April of 2011.
“We opened this place together,” Benjamin Fawks, owner of Rozz Tox said. “It was her and I growing up in and out of houses.” Fawks mentions that during this period of his life he was able to attend the same school. “So it was a pretty decent childhood in that sense.”
Upon turning 19, Fawks moved to south China to learn Chinese. Fawks intended for the trip to last only six months, but it then aged into ten years. While Fawks was there, he worked as an English teacher and ran his own bar in an old factory housing dozens of artists. The whole experience opened Fawks up to what he really wanted to do in life.
“I think I was falling into that crowd and really liking them and that scene,” Fawks said. “Feeling comfortable with those people in that space, it just felt good.”
Fawks later quit teaching and devoted his life in south China working at the bar. Fawks enjoyed being able to hang with his friends and felt as if he was learning more on the streets than in college, so he dropped out.
Fawks received a call in 2008 that his mother’s husband passed away.
“She was left pretty much alone,” Fawks said. “We had always been so close so I didn’t like the idea of her being alone. I made plans, it took a couple of years to sort out, and I moved back in 2010.”
In 2011 Fawks and his mother, Sorrells, opened Rozz Tox and it has been morphing ever since.
“It is slowly evolving every year,” Fawks said. “What you feel and see and experience in here now is how it’s always been in my mind, it just takes time.”
Over the years, new additions have been included like the second floor, which use to be a part of Fawks’ apartment. The second foor is a library of books and VHS tapes with numerous tables and seating for patrons.
The decorating of Rozz Tox, according to Fawks, is a “collective taste” of the community, but Fawks always has the last say in the design. Recently, Fawks received a grant from Rock Island to rebuild the patio outside of Rozz Tox. Fawks is also looking to include track lighting and and add white tile behind the counter.
“Small business is really fucking hard,” Fawks said. Fawks mentions that working as a small business owner feels like he was working “every waking moment”. Yet, Fawks mentions that his work is having fun. This fun includes holding poetry nights, film screenings and other events.
“You build a community,” Fawks said. “I love the curious crowd. Topic is never lacking here.”
Over the years, a group of regulars have been growing and new people show up based on the variety of events held at Rozz Tox.
Deke Gould, professor of philosophy, first entered Rozz Tox over three years ago and now wishes he discovered Rozz Tox sooner.
“The thing I like best about Rozz Tox is the community of people from a range of backgrounds coming together and sharing ideas,” Gould said. Gould likens the process of gaining new insights at Rozz Tox to a form of “fertile cross pollination”.
Fawks offers Rozz Tox as a way to engage a variety of people and his monthly film showings has been one way. This year the theme is nordic films and every last Sunday of every month he will be showing a variety of films connected to nordic background.
Rozz Tox has also been home to a variety of artists who are able to use the space on a monthly basis to showcase their artwork. Currently Rozz Tox is holding works by artist Charles Knudsen IV, who unfortunately recently passed away.
“This is a posthumously show for him and the proceeds go to his family,” Fawks said. Knudsen IV was a well-known artist at Rozz Tox and Fawks mentioned that for almost every April, the space was held for him. Knudsen IV’s work will continue to hang until the end of April and as of now almost every piece was bought.
Currently, the hours are 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesday through Friday. Saturday’s hours are 11a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday’s hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays are currently closed.
Jess Beshears, employee at Rozz Tox, first heard about Rozz Tox when she was in high school and started to attend for live music more often. Over a year ago Beshears has been working at Rozz Tox making her one of five employees that currently work there.
“The customers really make it enjoyable,” Beshears said. “We have some very good regulars and everybody that comes in is respectful. It’s a good crowd.”
One of the patrons that spend their time at Rozz Tox is Matthew Metscaviz. Metscaviz has been coming to Rozz Tox for the live shows and the atmosphere.
“I feel a sense of freedom, feeling of openness and learning new things,” Metscaviz said. “I buy a lot of art here. I’ve had very kind interactions with Benjamin. Always a positive place.”
Currently, Fawks is talking with someone to build raised garden beds in the back to take up space and provide more natural scenery.
Rozz Tox is not an original name according to Fawks, but rather adopted from Gary Panter’s manifesto of the same name. The Rozz Tox manifesto talks about ways for artists to come up from the underground and take advantage of capitalism to gain more of an audience. Fawks came into contact with the idea while working in south China. Once opening the business, Fawks knew the name was perfect and requested usage from Panter himself and Panter approved.
“I got to meet him a couple of years ago at a New York art book fair,” Fawks said. “It was a huge honor and a pleasure for me to finally meet him and shake his hand.”
Fawks mentions that once the 10th anniversary of Rozz Tox arrives he would love to have Panter come and introduce him to his community.
“This could be a place that you really dig,” Fawks said. “I feel like there is something for every single individual and every single type of person. It’s  a community spot, it’s not just a cafe.” Rozz Tox is located on 2108 3rd Ave, Rock Island, IL 61201.
Photo above: Benjamin Fawks, owner of Rozz Tox, grabs a Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie which is made of coconut and almond milk for a customer. Photo by Brady Johnson.

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Coffee, conversations and community at Rozz Tox