Chicago runs on small businesses

As the fall season turns chilly, small businesses compete with giant corporations for customers as the classic seasonal drinks cater to Chicagoans’ tastes. With 164 Starbucks and 226 Dunkin’ in Chicago, smaller coffee shops struggle to keep up with the competition.

Pedestrian Coffee, located right off the Belmont L stop, is a new small business coffee shop owned by Tim Taylor. The name Pedestrian, as well as their motto “extraordinary coffee for ordinary people,” is a play on simplifying good coffee to make it appeal to the common person, a life motto for Taylor.

“I take pride in being a small business in the world, it makes an attempt to give back in a positive way to the community,” Taylor said. “We’re just trying to meet people where they’re at because they’re asking for it and we put our own twist, elevate it a little bit and make it more of a culinary experience rather than just something cranked out.”

This is not Taylor’s first business, but he launched Pedestrian in the middle of the pandemic. He said while it was a struggle in the beginning, especially being sandwiched between a Dunkin’ and Starbucks, the appeal for a personalized experience with coffee is something most people come here specifically for.

“I’m hiring people that I think I could trust to represent me and my company in a manner that is about generosity and engaging people and so that’s who I hire; people who have concern for what’s going on in people’s lives and part of our training includes being sensitive to the people who walk in and we want to greet them but we don’t want to just read everybody the same,” Taylor said.

Pedestrian isn’t the only small coffee shop with strong connections to its community, Drink Happy Thoughts, located in Uptown, operates with the same attitude of appealing to personal connection. With the dog treats by the door, the remembering of names after two visits or the personal recommendations and considerations, Drink Happy Thoughts pushes the importance of intentional community.

Hannah Swartz has been a barista for five years and started working at Drink Happy Thoughts during January of last year. Swartz highlights that their favorite thing about working for a small business is the relationships built within the community and the personal care the company gives to their employees.

“With coffee you quickly get regulars, you get people that make this a part of their routine and get to know what they do and their time of day that they come in here,” Swartz said. “I enjoy it more, being in a small service setting and more creativity and this is a family-owned, really tight team, certainly the smallest group I’ve worked with, it’s really nice. There’s a lot of communication and support like ships and stuff, it’s not like a more corporate situation.”

Coffee connects all kinds of Chicagoans, but for most college students, small coffee shops add to a level of interest for a place to study.

DePaul senior Savana Schubert says that while she goes to many small coffee shops, Dollop Coffee has the perfect atmosphere to finish up her Sunday essays. Some of her other personal favorites are Two Hearted Queen, Heroes Coffee and Heritage Coffee.

“I love Dollop Coffee, they have a few locations in the city and have such good coffee. It’s my favorite place to study,” Schubert said.

Swartz believes the support small coffee shops create is important for the neighborhoods of chicago and they find comfort in the mutual respect in connection each small business has for each other.

“I think the coffee community here is really supportive and connected and I think it’s important to highlight that over supporting a business like Starbucks or McDonald’s,” Swartz said. “The city needs more of a reminder that there’s a lot of people working really hard to make a welcoming community.”