Friday, February 23, 2007

coffee stuff, coffee peeps, coffee coffee coffee...

CoffeeFest is here! No, I mean literally.

In October of 2005 (near the wee beginning of our journey to opening the shop), Miguel and I packed up our bags and flew to Seattle for CoffeeFest (a Specialty Coffee trade show) for the seminars and show floor (and to scope out the Seattle scene and shops). And now it's come to us... the next three days we'll be hanging out at Navy Pier meeting people, learning stuff, watching stuff and volunteering at stuff (Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition).

It looks to be a busy couple of days... Onward ho!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Look ma, we're on Fox...

Yay... we got our construction permit! Of course, it didn't all go with out snags, but our architect did a great job coordinating all last minute changes and hiccups, working with the city to get it through. However (there's always a "however" it's starting to seem), the space hasn't been turned over to us by the landlord yet, so we still can't begin our work and we're waiting on an update of their schedule and when they think they'll be done they're work. Still, not slowing down, we'll be sending out all the plans for bids this week.

In the meantime, my mum came for a visit this week from Philly which was great as I hadn't seen her in ages (over a year). We mostly puttered around the house while she was here, making just a few jaunts out into the chilly world... to Hopleaf for mussels on Thursday and to the MCA on Saturday for a performance of Chekhov's play, Uncle Vanya, which was pretty interesting. The set design was unusual, very modern, clean and architectural (I believe it was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merill). She also brought out some of her home-made baked goods for us (banana bread and whisky cake) plus a couple jars of her Lemon Curd and Gooseberry Jam, and some other British snacks I loved growing up like Jaffa Cakes and chocolate Smarties. So, basically, it's time to start going back to the gym to work it all off.

Speaking of eating (too much), about a month ago we went to a Ghetto Gourmet ("underground") dinner which was a total blast. It was in a loft almost exactly like where Miguel (and some friends) used to live in Wicker Park, just a block up Milwaukee Ave. Unfortunately, other than us, none of our friends were able to get tickets before it sold out. The food was delicious and the whole experience... entertainment, atmosphere and opportunity to chat with other "guests" really made for an fantastic evening. This video on their site really gives you a sense of what they're up to.

Actually, the day we went to the Ghetto Gourmet we had been hanging out with a friend of ours who was telling us about this totally awesome human beatboxer he had seen the night before at the Hothouse (and who was connected to some mutual friends of ours from grad school). It so happens, the guy sitting next to us at the Ghetto Gourmet dinner was that guy. His name's Yuri Lane and it turned out he was one of the two performers during dinner. Totally worth checking out... absolutely everything you hear is really coming from this guy's mouth!?!

Anyway, Fox News Chicago was there filming a little and it looks like the segment aired recently. It isn't as good as the video that I mentioned above (it is Fox News) but we're actually in the Fox segment here and there (we're sitting all the way at the left and then about halfway through you get a glimpse of me chatting with Yuri and then there's a quick clip of Miguel being interviewed). Anyway, if 'The Ghet' comes to your neighborhood... just go.

Lastly, we want to give a shout out to Steve for the mention on his coffee blog (we've never met, but I love his great flickr photos)! Great things are happening in the Chicago coffee scene...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Baby, it's REALLY cold outside...

There's no snow, but it's currently -1 degree Farhenheit outside (up from -9 degrees earlier this morning) with a wind chill (feels like) factor of less than -30 degrees. They've put out a "wind chill warning" which means that you can get frostbite, hypothermia or die (!) within 10 minutes of being outside. That's worse than the "wind chill advisory" we had yesterday (which lets you stay out there for up to 30 minutes with out losing fingers and toes). So as you can imagine, we're staying inside as much as possible. And unfortunately, last night's SuperBowl results aren't warming up anybody around these parts either.

On the building front, our permit "Intake Meeting" is this morning, which means that if we don't hit any major snags, we could theoretically get our construction permit very soon (cross yo' fingers!). However, the owner's guys haven't yet finished their part of the work before turning over the space to us. The lack of heat over there and the frigid temps are keeping the plumber (and others) away it seems. So we'll just have to see how this all affects our timing. For our part, we'll be getting bids on the project and finalizing al the construction plans so that as soon as they turn over the space to us, we can get crackin'.

On Friday afternoon we had an espresso tasting session with our friends over at Intelligentsia (Fulton St/Roasting Works). It was awesome. We had a chance to taste variations in shots due to changing variables (grind and tamp pressure) and blends. Sarah and Jay also dissected some shots of Black Cat into five parts for us (which I've always wanted to do but have never gotten around to) so we could really taste the differences between the extraction flavors at the beginning, middle and ends of the shot. I'm hoping this will help us troubleshoot our shots better to create better balance. We also tasted some single origin shots, including a really pleasantly surprising Yirgacheffe. We also snagged their new Direct Trade calendar which is dope (and available here)!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How did we get here? Nov/Dec '06

[For those of you just tuning in, this post is a part of the 'How did we get here?' flashback series which started here]

Obviously, a lot has been riding on that location, including all of the time and money we've spent refining the designs, not to mention that our loan package is contingent on that location. We try to determine if any of the deal is salvageable, but the feedback we get is that it's pretty unlikely. We make some gestures nonetheless, but effectively, we go back to the drawing board, pulling out all the old maps and learning about available locations on the market now (since we haven't been looking since May).

By this time, we've really been developing the business around being in the Andersonville neighborhood, but since there are no other viable, available locations for us there, we reluctantly start looking again in other neighborhoods. A few places seem to have some potential, and after a couple walk-throughs we begin design explorations and financial projections for two alternatives. Eventually we then narrow it down to one (not shown). Though we think this new location has a lot of potential, the nature of the area is quite different, and we realize that the concept itself will need some pretty big adjustments.

Though we don't really know what to expect, just before Thanksgiving we finally get a face-to-face meeting with the owner of "our" original location, whom we haven't actually ever met. The meeting goes very well, and we learn that there had been a lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings on both sides. The condition of the space and terms of the agreement would apparently have to be different, but we cautiously agree to explore whether we can make it work and whether we can come to an agreement. Both sides are anxious to figure it out ASAP.

The allotment, layout and condition of the space is now significantly different than before, and includes less space in the rear area (kitchen), but much more in the basement (storage). We work with the architect to make sure we can still fit the bathrooms and the very minimum space we require in the kitchen area. The numbers have shifted around as well, so we adjust our calculations and discuss what all the changes mean to us. There are some technical issues as well, relating to the mechanical and electrical issues, but we work quickly and directly with the owner and his contractor to come to an agreement, which we somehow manage to reach within two weeks. It's a different deal, but it's a deal.

Meanwhile, our awesome banker has somehow managed to sustain our loan offer (though it was supposed to have lapsed by now). Finally, after even more emotionally draining confusion ("we sent the lease, but DHL says it's missing..."), we finally get a copy of the signed lease on Boxing Day 2006 (the day after x-mas), and head straight to the bank to close on the loan!


And that's where this (real-time) blog first picked up...