I was sitting at a table, in the corner of a cafe, along with a couple of friends talking about coffee and business. It was last Fall, and the air was crisp, the leaves were just beginning to change color, and Jennifer Chen, Chris Zimmerman, and I were coffee crawling up and down the CTA Purple Line – starting in Highland Park at the recently-opened Madame Zuzu’s, then working our way down through Glencoe and Winnetka, before ending up in Evanston.
“My dream job is to be able to write, drink coffee, and travel,” Jenn confessed.
“Yeah – get in line,” I replied. We laughed.
Chris said, “I’ve always wanted to own my coffeehouse… But not like this one.” We laughed again.
At the time, Jenn had just started working at Gaslight, I was wrapping up a stint with Northwestern University, and Chris has been a longtime barista and trainer at The Brothers K in Evanston. But he wasn’t satisfied; and he wouldn’t be until he was the owner and manager of his own space, where he could be free to make his own destiny and his own coffee.
“What sort of progress have you made to making that happen?” I asked him.
“I’m actually looking at places to buy out or set up shop in right now!” he replied. “This is a really good market to start doing something in right now.”
I asked, “When are you thinking about opening? Or are you just exploring your options?”
“March 2013,” he, without missing a beat or even taking a moment to ponder, said. “I’ve always said that, by March 2013, I want to own a shop.”
It was already October 2012 and he hadn’t found any promising prospects yet, so it seemed like a bit of a stretch. But Chris was adamant. He even had a name picked out: “Ellipsis.”
I ran into him a few more times over the next couple of months at various events; then, in February, at a cupping challenge at Counter Culture Coffee’s training lab, he walked up to me, grinning a big ol’ cheeseball grin, and handed me a business card. It read: “Chris Zimmerman, Owner, Ellipsis Coffeehouse.” “I’m heading to the space as soon as this over to sign the lease and pick up the keys. I’ll be ready to launch on March 30th, 2013.”
This, Dear Readers, is a really great story.
Ellipsis Coffeehouse is the newest shop to open its doors in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, just shading south of the Edgewater/Rogers Park border that is Devon Avenue. At one time, the storefront at the corner of Devon and Lakewood was home to the now defunct Stella Espresso Company – a company which, in all truthfulness, should have been much better than it actually was. They had all the makings of a great shop and were the only shop in Chicago to feature Kickapoo Coffee; what they were lacking, however, were the two most important ingredients to a successful coffee business – good management and an interest in coffee. So, with sales dwindling and more money going out than coming in, Stella sold. Chris Zimmerman and his wife, Meghan, bought it, changed the name, renovated the interior, and in so doing, ticked “open my own coffee shop” off his bucket list.
In the past couple of months, Ellipsis Coffeehouse has established itself in the Rogers Park/Edgewater area as a truly specialty shop, slowly trying to convert Stella Espresso Company’s “the dream of the 90′s is alive at Stella” atmosphere and the clientele who grew accustomed to that approach.
First of all, the dozen or so varieties of Torani syrup bottles (vanilla, raspberry, hazelnut, coconut, chocolate, strawberry, cherry, toffee, Irish cream, etc., etc., etc., and all of their sugar-free counterparts) and the reliance on batch-brewed coffee have been replaced by Bonmacs that produce fresh single-serve coffees. Furthermore, the lackadaisy approach to coffee quality that this area of the city is so accustomed to is not representative of Ellipsis; the most noticeable change is that traditional espresso-based beverages won’t be served in to-go cups – namely, the espresso, macchiato, cortado, and the six ounce cappuccino.
Don’t assume, though, that this means the Zimmermans are totalitarian coffee snobs. That’s not the case at all. Conversely, they pride themselves on being non-pretentious educators that want to teach, explain, and discuss coffee. Chris explained in an interview with our friend Jenn Chen, “Somebody who comes in and only gets a 16 oz cappuccino, we will ultimately make them what they’re looking for, but our terminology will be different [...] It’s going to be a 16 oz dry latte. The reason for that is that we’re trying to educate the public on what they’re actually ordering.”
Between former Stella regulars, surrounding residents, Devon Avenue commuters, and Loyola University students, Ellipsis Coffeehouse is in a great position not only to succeed as a business, but also to make a legitimate difference in their community’s coffee consumption habits. And that’s a cool thing.
What is bound to help them do that is the coffee they serve – Counter Culture. I’ve always thought of Counter Culture as a really great gateway company – they’re the company that will open the average consumer’s eyes to even more incredible coffees; they’re not intimidating and they’re not crazy expensive and their products are never too flavorful. For my own experience, Counter Culture was the company that moved me away from companies like Starbucks and Peet’s and launched me into the specialty roasters that I’ve become such a snob about. And I know that’s the story for other coffee connoisseurs too. Furthermore, added bonus, Counter Culture is going to treat him well as a wholesale customer.
Much like the shop’s name indicates, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Ellipsis Coffeehouse.
I wish for nothing but massive success for Chris and Meghan Zimmerman – not just for the sake of my community’s coffee scene, but because success couldn’t possibly happen to people more deserving than the Zimmermans. I love these crazy kids, am privileged to consider them neighbors and friends, and I couldn’t be happier for them.