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Bow Truss Says It's Bringing Good Coffee - Not Gentrification - to 'Hoods

By Darryl Holliday | March 24, 2015 8:30am

LOGAN SQUARE — Bow Truss Coffee Roasters has been busy. The Chicago coffee chain has begun work on a new shop in the Loop while remaining at the center of protests at its recently opened Pilsen cafe after it announced plans to open a fourth location in Logan Square.

The Logan Square announcement came in November. The Pilsen pushback came in January when antigentrification activists posted signs on the Bow Truss storefront reading "Fresh Roasted Gentrification Served Here!" and "Wake up and smellllll the gentrification."

The Bow Truss Logan Square location is set to open in May at 2631 N. Kedzie Ave., according to owner Phil Tadros. But has the Chicago-grown coffee chain learned anything in the two months since calling for peace talks with activists in Pilsen — a neighborhood, like Logan Square, facing displacement and gentrification?

"Hopefully people who are not familiar with us will care to look into it," Tadros told DNAinfo Chicago on Monday. "It’s a much larger story about the fight for the quality of coffee and people’s lives than just being a sign of gentrification."

Tadros said numbers at his Pilsen location were increasing and customer response had been good since the shop opened in August, despite protests that sparked an ongoing and active dialog on gentrification in Pilsen.

Tadros offered to speak with the anonymous protesters after a second round of antigentrification posters reading, "GENTRIFICATION IS NOT Welcome here! Racism and Classism smelllls like your coffee" were plastered on the front window of Bow Truss in January.

But "it's difficult to have a conversation when people are hiding. If you want to have a conversation you don’t hide behind vandalism or art, you have a conversation. We are going to different countries and doing a lot of direct trade relations to take better care of farmers," he said Monday, adding that Bow Truss master roaster Dennis Jackson is in Mexico, and a video released by Bow Truss in May shows the result of recent trade deals.

"It’s unfortunate, I don’t think people understand that — they compare the prices [instead]. But if you’re paying 50 cents to $1 more, and the person that’s laboring and making it possible [isn’t benefiting], then it's much more [damaging] than someone overcharging for coffee," he added.

Bow Truss is taking its time with opening in Logan Square, Tadros said. What will be the company's fifth location is under construction in a landmark Loop building at Michigan and Jackson, so the team is keeping busy.

Plans for the Logan Square location include a similar style to other Bow Truss locations in Chicago, along with some “organic uniqueness” from the neighborhood, Tadros said. The upcoming shop will sit right near the Illinois Centennial Monument and steps from the Logan Square Blue Line terminal — which is directly in Logan Square’s central hub.

It’s one of many new residential and entertainment developments along Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, including the "gourmet mac and cheese" restaurant slated for construction in a shuttered mental health clinic, the neighborhood's new "luxury juice mecca" and "Logan's Crossing," a large commercial project planned for the long-standing Megamall — all located within a few blocks south on a booming strip of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square.

While they are frequent critics of developers and regular hosts of education workshops in the neighborhood, one of Logan Square’s most vocal antigentrification groups says it didn't plan to go up directly against Bow Truss, at least for now.

Members of We Are Logan Square are aware of the company’s efforts to discuss gentrification at home and their direct trade dealings abroad, according to Amie Sell, a Logan Square artist and activist who's no stranger to facing off against big developers. The groups plan to talk in person once Bow Truss makes its way to the neighborhood, she said.

"We welcome development in the neighborhood that does not displace current residents and ask developers and businesses to be sensitive to the recent displacement of thousands with sky-rocketing rents, mass evictions and loss of small businesses that serviced those residents,” Sell said.

“We hope that Bow Truss will hire local residents, pay them living wages and get involved with the efforts to keep Logan Square diverse — both economically and racially."

Sell reached out to Tadros after hearing about the protest in Pilsen, but said the coffee shop would have to prove its commitment in Logan Square.

"Businesses, even socially conscious ones, struggle with understanding how they relate to gentrification. It is up to us to figure it out together," she said.

When asked if Bow Truss means to be the most conscientious new development in Logan Square, Tadros sidestepped the question. He doesn't expect a confrontation similar to the one in Pilsen, he said, but residents are welcome to stop by.

"What could I possibly do besides open my doors to the neighborhood and offer a cozy safe haven [while] adding jobs and life to an empty storefront?" Tadros asked. "We organically get involved and reasonably help anyone who asks. Always."

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