The Local: Chicago’s Jolt of Coffee
While America may run on Dunkin (if you believe those commercials), Chicago has no shortage of incredible, locally-owned coffee roasters that keep the Windy City moving. Coffee roasting has blossomed into a burgeoning scene featuring big players, like Metropolis, and newer upstarts like Dark Matter, Ipsento, Gaslight, Halfwit and Groundswell.
We visited three local Chicago roasters — Big Shoulders in Fulton Market/West Town, Groundswell in Ravenswood and Metropolis in Avondale — and discovered why each chose their neighborhood, and what they love about it.
Big Shoulders started five years ago as an on-site roaster at its café in West Town, at the intersection of Grand, Ogden and Milwaukee. It came into a neighborhood that desperately needed a quality café. But its growing wholesale business forced Big Shoulders to move its roasting operation to the far west end of Fulton Market, an area that is blowing up with brewers, light industry and lots of creative businesses. The new roasting facility sits at a crossroads between Humboldt Park and Garfield Park and the uber-hot Randolph Street restaurant row.
However, Big Shoulders’ café still serves the West Town neighborhood. It joins other unique local businesses like The Matchbox bar and Silver Palm restaurant; Windy City Café; Mexique, Green Zebra, Flo, and enticing boutiques, like Dovetail, that continue to pop up in the community.
Up north, Groundswell moved into an already-established pocket community, where families set down roots and parks welcome kids to play and dogs to run. But Ravenswood, with its wider lots and beautiful large homes, is another area where development continues to take place. Near Damen Avenue, where Groundswell has its café (and roaster about a mile north near Bryn Mawr), new businesses like Ampersand Wine Bar, Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits, Empirical Brewery, Band of Bohemia, Roots Pizza, The Sixth, District and more serve this classic Chicago neighborhood. A revamped Metra Station at Ravenswood and Lawrence makes it easy for commuters to get downtown or out to the North Shore.
Last, Avondale is one of Chicago’s hottest emerging neighborhoods. Nestled between Roscoe Village, Logan Square and Irving Park, it’s home to some of the city’s most acclaimed newer restaurants, including Parachute and Fat Rice. Avondale has a rich history of manufacturing along the Chicago River, where you’ll find Metropolis Coffee, one of the godfathers of the new wave coffee movement. While Metropolis’ beans are roasted in Avondale, the Edgewater neighborhood is where it opened a double storefront café with a roaster in the back more than a decade ago. It quickly grew into a third storefront where Loyola students and locals would gather en masse. As Metropolis’ popularity grew, so did their wholesale business. So last year, they set up inside a former manufacturing plant along the river in Avondale and now serve accounts across the United States. The independently owned roaster never forgets its roots. Its café continues to thrive and its employees remain loyal. Tony Dreyfuss, who owns the company with his father, loves the new digs in Avondale and takes advantage of long-standing businesses, like Mr. Pollo for South American chicken and Reed’s Local, a hip dive bar. It’s for these reasons and more, Dreyfuss thinks Avondale is a great place to live.
When you’re ready for your next cup of coffee, think local, and check out one of these great roasters or look for one popping up in your neighborhood.
By Ari Bendersky