406 N Wells.
Chicago, IL, 60654
I’ve been watching Bowtruss for the past year and a half through their rise and fall and hope to see them rise again in the near future. This Chicago based roaster started off with just a shop attached to the roastery and soon exploded into a 10 shop chain with locations across Chicago and even one in LA. They seemed to be doing everything right until one day in late 2016 when their employees walked out due to financial issues stemming from shady creditors and bad business deals. All 9 Chicago locations closed their doors for weeks until the owners were able to reorganize and restructure. At the time of this review, Bowtruss has reopened two of their Chicago locations.
Bowtruss is a self proclaimed company of coffee lovers that takes pride in quality and coffee know-how. It has been my experience that Bowtruss’ target market are aspiring coffee geeks who want to learn more about the craft world. This gives it a special place in my heart as it played a role in my entry into the industry, but for the typical caffeine concerned customer this focus may miss the mark. The staff are awesome and passionate people and the coffee itself is excellent but there is little that presents that wow factor.
As I said above, Bowtruss is driven by quality roasting. It’s the foundation they’ve built their identity on. I’ve been a fan of everything I’ve tried from them so far; the espresso has the brightness I expect from a craft shop and the slow bar does a good job of accenting the subtle flavors of different regions. Beyond that though, there’s not much to say that’s good. There are no specialty lattes; no creative concoctions of any kind really. Pricing here is significantly higher than most other shops I’ve been to with base espresso starting at $3.35 and prices go up from there. Because of this, I can’t give a great review to the selection here.
The N. Wells location is situated right under the purple line at Merchandise Mart catching much of the foot traffic coming to this part of town from the surrounding areas. It’s a beautiful part of town with parks along the river and some fun shops nearby. The storefront itself though isn’t particularly unique though. They’ve got a decent amount of seating and outlets and space to move around, but this is another shop that’s given into the “Hipster Industrial Coffee Shop” theme. It doesn’t wow me, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen before. It’s good, but it isn’t great.
Staffing is where Bowtruss shines. I’ve been to this location a handful of times and have always had awesome interactions with the baristas. The people here love what they do and are excited to share that passion with their customers. When they learned I was in the industry, they dove into the behind the scenes stuff and were eager to hear my opinions. I felt welcomed and valued as a customer and I felt like the baristas really knew what they were talking about.
Bowtruss seems to be a company made up of awesome people who really care about their customers. Unfortunately, this location doesn’t do much to set itself apart from the hundreds of other shops in the city and thousands of other shops in the world. This model works for developing a returning base of customers (who are willing to pay much more over time), but it isn’t a place that’s targeted at bringing in and converting new customers. If I happened to work in the area and walked by every day I’d probably stop in once a week but this isn’t the kind of shop that would get me to go out of my way.