Philz Coffee, a San Fransisco-based company with a loyal following, will debut its first location this weekend in Wicker Park. The official opening date is Saturday, June 22 but the coffeeshop will be open sporadically for sneak peeks starting Sunday at 1640 W. Division Street. Philz will also open Chicago locations in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, and suburban Evanston in that order.
The first Philz opened in 2003 in San Francisco’s Mission district. Founder Phil Jaber isn’t involved in day to day operations as son Jacob Jaber now has those responsibilities. The younger Jaber is in Chicago to oversee the Midwest expansion. There are more than 50 Philz locations. The first Chicago location is new construction, just west of the CTA’s Division Street Blue Line stop.
Fabiana’s Bakery in Hyde Park and Aya Pastry (run by the parent company of Gold Coast steakhouse Maple & Ash) will supply baked goods. Philz also serves light items including toasts, bowls, and sandwiches with Mediterranean flavors like labneh and zatar. Jacob Jaber pointed out his family has Lebanese and Palestinian roots.
Philz uses 12 secret coffee blends from countries including Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Unlike Starbucks and other coffeeshops, customers don’t order at the cash register. They’ll be greeted by a barista who can steer customers through the menu suggesting blends, specialty drinks and more. Customers can also customize their drinks. Jaber said a Philz staffer crunched a spreadsheet and calculated more than 4 million different drink combos. There’s no condiment stand with syrups (Philz doesn’t use syrups) or sugar as Philz’s staff mixes any add-ons behind the counter.
“The problem with ‘artisan’ is that it’s not accessible to the masses,” Jacob Jaber said when describing what makes his chain different. “We want to make quality accessible to everyone.”
Division Street in Wicker Park doesn’t lack coffeeshops with cafes including Scone City, Intelligentsia, Caffe Streets, and Starbucks. Jaber said he doesn’t really pay attention to the competition. They see Chicago as a gateway to the rest of the Midwest and doesn’t see any difference in Chicago’s coffee culture compared to other cities. It’s just a great city that enjoys good coffee and has a large enough population to make expansion attractive, Jaber said.
Customers at Philz want a different experience and appreciate quality, Jaber added. Those sound like generic company talking points, but Jaber believes in those words. Strong WiFi is a point of pride (there’s a Philz inside Facebook’s Silicon alley headquarters). The average customer lingers for about 90 minutes, Jaber said.
For example, a customer could order a cold-brew coffee with brown sugar that’s garnished with fresh mint. The beans are ground while the customer is waiting. Jaber estimated that it takes three to four minutes to make a drink. Those who don’t want to wait, including morning commuters, can use the Philz app for quicker service. The app stores drink favorites and even includes photos of baristas.
Stay tuned for more coverage as opening day grows closer.