Several months ago, back in January, I had to bid adieu to one of my favorite coffee shops in Chicago—Noble Tree Coffee and Tea. This was a tremendous shop in Lincoln Park, housed in one of the historic brownstone buildings that are so famously associated with that neighborhood. Three floors of seating, a patio, Metropolis Coffee served by pretty good baristas, and Hoosier Mama pie that could knock your socks off.
Then, at the end of January, they closed their doors for good.
Later it was announced that Noble Tree closed to make way for a new coffee project by the same owners: this time, they had their hearts set on a roasting operation. That became big news for a long time; Chicago coffee lovers get really excited whenever rumors of a new local shop or roaster start brewing. Weeks and months went by; then we got to see a Twitter account, then a website, then a Facebook page, and, finally, last week, they opened their doors to the public for the first time.
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of the newly-opened Bow Truss Coffee Roasters. Pardon the dust, and feel free to pull up a chair.
I was fortunate last week when Bow Truss had a “soft opening”—they opened their doors to the Lakeview neighborhood, allowed passersby to pop in for a cup, said “hi” to their new neighbors, and patiently put up with me asking a billion questions. Tomorrow, July 3 from 7-9pm, is the big show. The official grand opening.
A lot of excitement and expectation is swirling around Bow Truss Coffee Roasters’ grand opening, and reasonably so. They’ve pulled together a veritable coffee dream team, so a lot of people are wondering if they’ll be able to pull the weight attached to their names.
The owner, Phil Tadros, is an accomplished investor and businessman whose resume includes the likes of Noble Tree, Dollop, Kickstand Espresso Bar, Next Door Cafe, and interactive design agency Doejo; the manager, Talya Strader, has several years of management experience, several more years of coffee brewing experience under her belt with world-renowned Intelligentsia Coffee, and recently established a collective of Chicago-based coffee professionals called the New Gotham Coffee Community; the roastmaster, Dennis Jackson, is a huge presence in the roasting world having been a roastmaster for La Boheme Cafe in Prague (yes—as in Prague, Czech Republic) and the founder of Jackson-Wright Coffee Consulting.
Here at the Table, I try not to put much stock into hype, but I have to admit—it’s hard not to with that lineup.
I was impressed by a number of things during the couple of hours that I spent there.
First of all, the space they call home is incredible. Rather than going for a typical cafe look, with tables and chairs organized neatly in rows and low lighting for ambiance, they opted for an industrial look. Walking through the doors into the cafe area is like walking into a big warehouse—mostly empty walls, tons of concrete floor space, a hollow ambiance, a big bar area, one large glass table with about ten chairs for sitting, a small condiment bar area, four shelves for retail space inside of a canoe, and a cart with vintage suitcases with speakers built into them stacked up. On the other side of those suitcases are an office, a work station, and a giant Probat roaster.
And that’s it. It’s simple and functional.
Doesn’t sound like a place you’d want to spend a few hours reading, relaxing, or surfing the Net with a cup of coffee? Well, that’s kind of the point. Neither their cafe nor their existing business model rely on customers being comfy or cozy. Instead, they’re hoping that the cafe side of things will be more of a “cup-to-go” situation—the customer walks in, orders a drink, then enjoys it either on their way to their destination or while perusing the many, many cool shops that line Broadway Avenue.
I’m not a businessman obviously, so I don’t have nearly the insight into these sorts of things that Tadros has, but I’m not sure how I feel about this approach yet—I guess I’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. To me, it seems that a coffee shop should retain their business, not give them more reason to leave; particularly when there’s an Intelligentsia store right across the street.
On the other hand, I can appreciate that they’re keeping coffee at the center of their focus. They’re not selling a brand and they’re not selling an experience—they’re selling coffee. Pure, unadulterated coffee. They don’t want their customers leaving and thinking “Wow, what a cool cafe.” They want them leaving with a cup of coffee and telling their friends, “Bow Truss serves up some really great brews!”
Besides, the brew bar isn’t even really what Bow Truss is all about—it’s more about that big Probat roaster sitting in the back of their space and the stuff that comes out of it. I’ve had three coffees from them so far—a natural Ethiopia Sidamo, an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and their espresso. The espresso was really tasty, the Sidamo was pretty interesting, and the Yirgacheffe—well, I haven’t fully formed an opinion on that one yet. I will soon, though—check back in over the next couple of days to read my reviews of the two Ethiopias.
Like a lot of us coffee-loving kids here in Chicago, I’m genuinely excited about what’s happening with Bow Truss Coffee Roasters. I imagine that someday down the road I’ll be updating this entry to give all of you a better idea of the store and the roastery, but this ought to suffice for now.