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'Fairgrounds' Aims To Disrupt Cafe Culture Starting With Wicker/Bucktown

By Alisa Hauser | December 27, 2016 3:34pm
 Future home of Fairgrounds, a new coffee shop planned for 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Future home of Fairgrounds, a new coffee shop planned for 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — Come spring, there will be yet another spot in which to get caffeinated near Wicker Park and Bucktown's bustling "six corners."

But the 40-seat Fairgrounds plans to differentiate itself from the pack by serving coffee from several local and national roasters, it was announced Tuesday.

"When you go into a Starbucks, you are locked into Starbucks [coffee]. I think it's weird to be locked into one thing. Palettes are becoming more distinguished and we are pioneering in offering consumer choice, which will be disruptive to the industry," said Fairgrounds' founder and CEO Michael Schultz.

Schultz said the Fairgrounds business model is similar to the craft beer segment, meaning that bars often serve several kinds of beer from craft brewers and not just one.

"We think that the process [of traditional coffee shops] is somewhat antiquated," Schultz added.

A hospitality veteran who operates cafes inside Downtown office buildings, Schultz said his new brand, Fairgrounds, will be located at 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave., just a few doors north of The Robey and The Hollander, a pair of boutique hotels that opened last month.

Following a renovation permit issued earlier this month, if everything goes as planned, the 1,962-square-foot Fairgrounds — neighbored by a Sprint wireless store and forthcoming French perfumery Le Labo — will open in early spring, Schultz said.

"We happen to love the area and I'm very familiar with it. My wife was a teacher at Pritzker School around the corner. It is a vibrant little community in middle of the city," said Schultz, who lives in Lincoln Park.

Schultz said Fairgrounds' name is a play on the idea of fairgrounds, particularly state fairgrounds being a place where communities can gather, as well as coffee grounds.

"Cafes are a place for people to gather and talk and spend time together," he said.

Along with coffee, Schultz said Fairgrounds will serve Rishi teas and offer "a very exciting matcha program" plus food and pastries.

"It's not frozen preservative-fueled stuff. There will be great salads and sandwiches all done fresh," he said. 

Along with Wicker Park, Fairgrounds plans to expand to other parts of the city and country, with more locations expected to be announced soon, Schultz said.

Schultz declined to reveal which roasters Fairgrounds will offer on the menu but said the concept mixes "very localized local roasters" with "well known national brands."

Once open, Fairgrounds will join several other coffee shops such as the forthcoming Bow Truss, 1948 W. North Ave., which is expected to open by March, delayed from an initial target of mid-January, owner Phil Tadros said Tuesday.

The new Bow Truss is next to a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts, 1938 W. North Ave., and less than a block east of  the six-corner intersection where Starbucks is planning to triple in size and add beer and wine sales this spring.

On Damen Avenue there is the recently remodeled Buzz Killer Espresso. A few steps south on Damen Avenue, the CTA Blue Line "L" tracks are flanked by a La Colombe coffee and Stan's Donuts.

Farther up the block, Bru, 1562 N. Milwaukee Ave., The Wormhole, 1462 N. Milwaukee Ave., and Filter Cafe, 1373 N. Milwaukee Ave., add to the caffeinated streets.

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