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Chicago Coffee Legend Jim Karr Killed by Falling Coffee Machine

By Quinn Ford | May 27, 2014 8:17am
 Jim Karr, 48, was installing a large coffee machine near the Petrillo Music Shell Saturday afternoon when he lost his balance and the machine fell on him.
Jim Karr, 48, was installing a large coffee machine near the Petrillo Music Shell Saturday afternoon when he lost his balance and the machine fell on him.
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Facebook/Dark Matter Coffee

CHICAGO — A 48-year-old Roscoe Village man killed when a coffee machine fell on him Downtown Saturday was a "legend and mentor to the entire specialty coffee community," according to Dark Matter Coffee's Facebook page.

Jim Karr was setting up a large coffee machine in the 300 block of East Jackson Drive in Grant Park when he lost his balance about 4:25 p.m., police said. Karr grabbed the machine to steady himself, but it fell on top of him.

Karr, of the 1900 block of West Henderson Street, was injured in his head and chest and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:56 p.m. Saturday, authorities said.

Quinn Ford discusses Karr's impact on Chicago's coffee community:

Karr, who for many years was the director of brewing technology at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, left in August 2012 to found SteamVolt, a company that sought to "advance the mechanics of craft coffee."

Karr was a technician who installed, repaired and modified coffee brewing equipment, and those who knew him said he was one of the best in the country.

Within hours, news of Karr's death spread across the country's coffee community. Nicholas Cho, of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, which is located in the San Francisco Bay area, said everyone in the industry knew of Karr.

"In terms of the work Jim did, he was one of the very few in the country that was known as being a top expert at what he did," Cho said.

Cho described Karr as soft-spoken and easy to get along with but also very intelligent and passionate about his craft.

Tony Dreyfuss, the founder and owner of Metropolis Coffee Company in Chicago, said Karr was an expert who was "a really friendly guy in a seriously competitive industry."

"He bridged the gap between a lot of competing companies," Dreyfuss said. "He was always the collaborating guy."

Dreyfuss also described Karr as "really innovative individual within his super specialized field" when it came to developing coffee equipment. He said Karr was an increasingly rare kind of person in the industry who had an "old world" way of doing business.

"You knew that when Jim put his stamp on it that it was right," Dreyfuss said. "He had a level of integrity and fastidiousness, trust and honor that I think is something everyone should know about him."

Trey Elder, who worked with Karr at Intelligentsia Coffee, said everyone in the industry, from baristas to sales people, knew of Karr.

"Most people that are serious about their coffee profession at some point ran into Jim," Elder said.

Staff at Dark Matter Coffee declined to comment further Tuesday, asking for time to grieve for Karr. Some staff members were with Karr when the accident happened Saturday. According to the coffee shop's statement and friends, Karr was setting up the coffee machine for the Bike the Drive event over the weekend.

"Our friend, Jim Karr, legend and mentor to the entire specialty coffee community, passed away by a freak accident ... He was an inspiration," Dark Matter Coffee's post stated.

Like others who knew Karr, Elder said the 48-year-old was a genuine, "kind-hearted person." He was quiet and quick-witted and had a lot of people who cared about him, Elder said.

"He's definitely going to be very missed by a very large community that's bigger than just coffee, that's bigger than Chicago," Elder said. "He touched a lot of people in his life."

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