HYDE PARK — Even before its sign went up, the new Bridgeport Coffee Co. location at the Hyde Park Art Center was full of customers this week.
“We just turned on the open sign, and it was clear the neighborhood needed us,” said owner Mike Pilkington, who was at the 5020 S. Cornell Ave. location this week training baristas. “This is our community, you can see it.”
The coffee shop has a fresh coat of paint and more tables, but is largely unchanged from when the space hosted Istria Cafe, which closed in January. But unlike Istria, Bridgeport Coffee has the efficiencies of having its own roaster.
By doing his own roasting, Pilkington said he’s able save about $4 a pound at the 3101 S. Morgan St. flagship location, which goes through 1,000 pounds a week. He said he also cut Istria’s Italian specialties because “It’s difficult to execute high quality gelato and Paninis while still doing specialty coffee well."
Pilkington envisions more locations on the South Side, but he said they won’t be in the style of the Hyde Park Art Center shop.
“More will be like the Roosevelt Collection,” Pilkington said of South Loop location that also will offer wine and cheese.
The expansion will be South Side-centric, according to Pilkington, because the expanding roster of specialty roasters in the city has ignored this part of the city.
“We’re South Side guys, we want to be on the South Side — plus everybody and their brother is a North Side guy,” Pilkington said.
With the Hyde Park Art Center location opening this week and the Roosevelt Collection store opening in September, even Bridgeport Coffee’s suppliers in El Salvador are getting interested. A group of growers who provide beans for Bridgeport Coffee are planning to make a trip to Chicago to vie for a cut of his growing South Side empire, according to Pilkington.
Pilkington wants them interested because he’s spent three years building relationships with coffee farmers in Central America, and the better the shops in Chicago do, the more he can focus on those relationships.
He hopes in five years to pass off management of the coffee shops and focus on the import side of Bridgeport Coffee, he said. Pilkington said he thinks importing and selling beans directly at coffee shops is where he can beat the competition.
“They’re younger and more energetic and are running circles around me in the wholesale market, and my background is in restaurants anyway,” Pilkington said.
“I’m starting to import more and more coffees and focus on the relationships with the farmers.”
That approach also allows Pilkington to work hardest on the elements of the business he enjoys: building ties with communities where Bridgeport Coffee has shops and communities of farmers who help supply those stores.
“We’re more than merchants," he said. "We do strive to be part of the community.”