As first reported by Eater Chicago, the specialty coffee roaster/retailer Bow Truss Coffee has twice in the last week found anti-gentrification signs placed overnight at its new Pilsen neighborhood coffee bar, on Chicago’s South Side.
As per Eater [emphasis theirs]: “Customers and workers at the coffee shop woke up Friday morning to find their windows covered with construction paper signs. The signs included phrases like: “Wake up & smellllll the gentrification,” and “fresh roasted gentrification served here!”
The news and its attendant reportage have resulted in acres of discussion, much of which has taken place in the comments on Eater’s Facebook post. In response to the events, Bow Truss will now offer $1 cups of coffee at their Pilsen location, and owner Phil Tadros is speaking out about the issue. DNA Info’s Mauricio Peña spoke with Tadros last week, who told him, “To do anything positive, or move forward, we have to have a conversation with the people doing this. We aren’t here to harm anyone.” Later in the interview Tadros wonders, “Is it someone who has been in the neighborhood all their lives? Or is it someone who moved here recently?” Some online commenters have questioned the authenticity of the actions; the first wave of signage was in English, after all, though round two is bilingual.
2014 was a year of precipitous growth for Bow Truss which included a successful crowdfunding run on LendSquare (more than $200,000 was raised to buy a new coffee roaster). The building the cafe occupies in Pilsen is owned by Jeffrey Malk, a real estate professional whose Malk Holdings LLC maintains an office in Wicker Park. Malk told DNA Info, “You’re seeing a lot of Logan Square-type restaurateurs who see Pilsen as their second location,” an interest spurred on by successful projects such as the Thalia Hall complex, home to Dusek’s and Punch House, and owned by the team behind Logan Square’s popular Longman & Eagle restaurant/whiskey den/curated urban flophouse.
Riley also spoke with Eleazar Delgado of Cafe Jumping Bean, a neighborhood cafe with 20+ years serving in Pilsen—two noteworthy decades during which the neighborhood has seen a gradual shift in demographics from working-class Latino families to art lofts to, more recently, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops with higher prices and a different kind of customer.
Over the last couple of years, Delgado said he has noticed some subtle changes in the coffee shop’s clientele. He’s heard more requests for pour-over coffee (which Cafe Jumping Bean does not offer), and a few complaints about too many “hipsters” in the shop have started showing up on his Yelp page.
“I said, ‘Where are the hipsters?’ I see the churro man, the paletero [ice cream] man here. I see the ladies from the restaurants and the workers. We know everybody here,” Delgado said.
There’s even a chance (as per those aforementioned Eater comments) that the whole kerfluffle was inspired by a recent episode of Shameless, a Showtime network original TV show starring William H. Macy and Ted from How I Met Your Mother. The events down in Pilsen have moved the needle enough to warrant coverage in the Chicago Tribune, whose article culls widely from the Eater and DNA Info coverage without crediting it. But the Trib’s coverage contains this particularly prescient and disturbing bon mot:
“Specialty coffee is gentrification symbolized, in the size of a cup.”
We’ll be watching this story as it develops.