The owner of Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea is staying busy as next week the mini-chain’s opening a flagship coffee shop in Fulton Market with cocktails, giant swings, and skee-ball. It follows locations in Bucktown and the Chicago Athletic Association hotel across from Millennium Park, as well as Minnesota and LA.
But entrepreneur Michael Schultz isn’t done — later this year he’s opening Bond Coffee Collective near the border of Chicago and Evanston. It’s another coffee shop that “just happens to be kosher.” He also has Fairgrounds locations planned in Oak Park and Milwaukee.
First things first: The new Fairgrounds, 1330 W. Fulton Market, is also a cocktail bar. It’s opening on Wednesday, March 27. The coffee chain shares a little bit in common with some of Chicago beer bars that pour hundreds of brews from many different breweries. Most coffee shops are tied to one coffee roaster, but not Fairgrounds. Locations serve multiple local varieties like Dark Matter Coffee and Gaslight Coffee Roasters, plus Colectivo from Milwaukee and Stumptown from Portland, Oregon.
“I turned to my partners: Does this not make any sense to you either?” Schultz said. “Why is that cool with beer, but not with coffee?”
So Schultz went out to create Fairgrounds, hoping to open a coffee shop that could cater to customers needing a place to work, families with young children in strollers needing a place to escape, and passionate coffee fans who are particular with their beans. Schultz wants a place to celebrate diversity. That’s another reason the coffee shop aims to have a serious tea program with Rishi Teas, to celebrate a drink that’s more popular around the world than coffee.
Unlike other Fairgrounds, the new Fulton Market location offers cocktails including “Grandpa Irv’s Old Fashioned.” It’s named after Schultz’s grandfather, Irv Gordon, who died before the Bucktown shop opened in 2017. It’ll have other boozy drinks like hot-buttered rum, but alcohol service isn’t the only difference in Fulton Market. There’s also skee-ball and giant rope swings meant to foster a whimsical atmosphere.
“It’s more than liquor, it’s really a larger canvas to keep playing and to have fun,” Schultz said.
The morning food menu includes breakfast sandwiches and tacos, acai bowls, and bagels. Salads, sandwiches, and grain bowls are for lunch. New items include naans with toppings and tofu banh mi.
There are two more Fairground planned: at 702 Lake Street in suburban Oak Park and in Milwaukee at 916 E. State Street. After Fulton Market opens, Schultz will turn his attention to the North Side. Bond Coffee Collective should open later this spring at 7555 N. California Avenue. Schultz hopes to challenge the notion of antiquated kosher food and make it exciting for younger customers. The shop will be certified kosher and serve items like acai bowls, breakfast tacos, and overnight oats.
Schultz brings a diversity of work experiences. Before opening Fairgrounds he worked at Ruth’s Chris Steak House (a chain that famously offers not-so-kosher steaks coated with sizzling butter). He’s also behind Infuse Hospitality, a company that runs restaurants, bars, and coffee shops inside office spaces. Clients include Conagra Brands and Salesforce. Schultz feels the company gives talented and young chefs and bartenders a venue to develop their skills. The company offers better benefits than most restaurants. But he’s also not competing with restaurants and bars. He said his rivals are food service companies, a space that includes Compass Group and Sodexo.
Look for Fairgrounds Fulton Market to open to the public on March 27, and for Schultz’s other new locations soon.