STREETERVILLE — What differentiates a community coffee shop from a Starbucks?
Jeff Dreyfuss, the founder and owner of Metropolis Coffee Company, knows a thing or two about the many Chicago cafés that serve up his java.
And he says it's all about accessibility: from subtle design that walks the line between overstuffed and industrial, to baristas who won't try to talk their customers into a Chemex brew if they prefer the pour-over method.
"In third wave coffee shops, people sometimes get a little arrogant, but that's not what cafés are about," Dreyfuss said at Dollop Coffee & Tea in Streeterville, where he'd staked out a spot to people watch during its first few hours of operation Wednesday morning. "Particularly in this area, it should be profoundly community-oriented. Especially in Streeterville, where you have such a great mix."
Dreyfuss, a self-described coffee nut who came to Chicago by way of Seattle, was parked at Dollop when it opened Wednesday morning to show his support for owner Dan Weiss, who also runs the original Dollop in Uptown and Kickstand Espresso Bar in Lakeview.
The new Streeterville location will be the first coffee shop dedicated to brewing Metropolis coffee downtown, though it's also served as the house blend at the popular brunch spot Yolk a few doors down on East Ohio Street.
Weiss inherited a business relationship with Dreyfuss when he bought the Dollop Coffee & Tea at 4181 N. Clarendon Ave., which was one of the first to serve Metropolis Coffee. But the unlikely pair has become finish-each-other's-sentences close since Weiss started grabbing his morning cup at Dreyfuss' Metropolis Café.
"Jeff and I have the same vision: to build a coffee shop around the neighborhood, and the customers," Weiss said.
With its white walls and sparse decor, the new space at 345 E. Ohio St. literally looks like a blank canvas. But Weiss said he'll paint the walls green if that's what his Streeterville customers are into — he often describes his ideal cafe as a "sponge for the neighborhood."
But he did bring something from the original Dollop to the downtown site: his staff, who are equally committed to distancing the shop from its more fast-paced urban competitors.
"The other Dollop is all regulars: you know their names, you know their dogs' names, you know their orders," said Betsy Birkey, a barista who started working at Dollop seven years ago. "At first I was like, 'Downtown? Really?' But then I realized that's why [Weiss] wants to do it here, because this neighborhood needs something like that."
Birkey and the other transplants from Dollop in Uptown were "a little panicked" when they got an email last week with the subject "Fire at Dollop." Rags soaked in linseed oil that had been used to varnish the tables spontaneously combusted, damaging a sitting area and staining the giant lighted "DOLLOP" sign mounted over the counter.
But the staff cleaned up the damage in a week, and the smoke damage to the signage delighted its designers, Birkey said.
"The sign used to be all white, and now it looks kind of damaged, and aged," Birkey said. "We were cleaning everything else and the designers were like, 'Leave it!' "
Weiss hopes the space will continue to evolve—though hopefully not through any more spontaneous disasters.
"I don't want to think I understand what any neighborhood wants," Weiss said. "So you start minimally, and then you let the neighborhood dictate what they want from it...I'm excited to learn what a Streeterville coffee shop should look like."