Published 9:35 PM EST Nov 12, 2019
CHICAGO – The largest Starbucks in the world opens Friday in the Windy City.
The location will open Nov. 15 on Magnificent Mile as the company’s sixth and final Reserve Roastery, an immersive, theatrical experience dedicated to roasting and brewing small-batch coffee from around the world.
Somewhere between a shrine to beans and a Willy Wonka’s of coffee, the Roastery features three coffee bars, a cocktail bar and a selection of food from Italian bakery Princi – each with a distinctive Chicago flare.
The Chicago installment joins existing locations in New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Milan, and Seattle, which opened the first Reserve Roastery in 2014.
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Why did Starbucks choose Chicago?
This isn’t the first time that Chicago has laid claim to the world’s largest Starbucks or a company first.
The Seattle chain opened its first store outside the Pacific Northwest in Chicago in 1987. Then in 1993, Starbucks built its first airport location in O’Hare International.
A couple of years later in 1995, Starbucks built a 4,000-square-foot location on Rush Street that was the largest at the time.
“This roastery is a representation of the relationship that Starbucks has had with the city of Chicago,” CEO Kevin Johnson said at a press preview Tuesday. “Chicago has been a market where we innovate and try new things.”
The Roastery employs nearly 200 people, many recruited from Starbucks locations across the country. It occupies the five-story, approximately 35,000-square-foot Crate & Barrel building on the corner of North Michigan Avenue and Erie Street. “For us, this is really a dream. The building history here is very unique,” Johnson said.
Originally constructed in 1990, the white building was a longtime facet of the city’s Magnificent Mile. Jill Enomoto, vice president of Roastery Design & Concept for Starbucks, said designers played off the building’s natural light and structure. The Roastery’s 56-foot steel cask, which holds and transfers beans, runs straight up the middle of the building’s glass atrium as long, thin, winding rods transport coffee to each of the bars throughout the rectangular structure.
“All your senses – your sights, your smells, your sound – is wonderful in a building like this,” said Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal, who collaborated on the project with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
The Roastery dedicates a “love letter” to Chicago on the fourth floor.
“Chicago, you inspire us. Your people, your city, your architecture, your music, your art. Your neighborhoods and communities,” the wall art reads. “Thank you.”
What can visitors eat and drink?
Unlike other Starbucks locations, which serve coffee blends, the Roastery serves only rare coffees, roasted on-site in small batches. The new location is expected to roast 200,000 pounds per year, in 25-pound batches.
On the ground floor, visitors can observe the coffee-roasting process and sample classic espresso drinks from the Reserve Coffee Bar. As the roasters prepare the beans, visitors can see in real time where they originated from as an old-fashioned clack board updates the locations. Visitors also can ride in the Midwest’s first curved escalator, which offers a 360-degree tour of the roasting and brewing below.
On the third floor, viewers will spy an array of flasks, tubes and cylinders at the Experiential Coffee Bar, where baristas boil and brew coffee mixtures.
There’s barrel-aged coffee, too. At the fourth-floor Barrel-Aged Coffee Bar, mixologists create non-alcoholic coffee drinks from beans aged in Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey barrels. (The Roastery brands its ice cubes with a signature “R” and smokes its cold brew to order.)
“The Barrel-Aged Coffee Bar here in Chicago is the only one of its kind. We’re considering this the apex of barrel-aged innovation,” said Shiami Ranasing, a Starbucks partner, which is how the coffee giant refers to employees. “It’s really about the purist expression of coffee innovation. You’re actually aging green coffee beans in whiskey barrels and imparting all of those unique aromas.”
On the same floor, visitors can experience the Arriviamo Cocktail Bar – also featured in New York and Milan – and taste a variety of beverages crafted by three local mixologists, including the “Union Stock,” “Lake Shore,” “Pour Over Bijou” and “Roastery Boilermaker,” which, true to the Windy City, includes a shot of bitter liquor Malort.
Visitors may see pastries circulating the Roastery on a bakery conveyor, but the full selection of Princi food items are only available on the second floor, with limited selections throughout the store. The cafe offers fresh breads, cornetti and focaccia, pizza and salads, cakes, tarts, cannolis and more.
“Everything is special,” Italian baker Rocco Princi said of his food Tuesday.
For those in the mood for something cold and sweet, the Roastery has hand-mixed liquid nitrogen gelato.
A Roastery powered by wind
The Chicago Reserve Roastery is a LEED-certified building, meaning that it meets the construction standards of Leadership in Environmental & Energy Design. “This builds on our ongoing efforts to address our environmental impact and ensure that we offer our customers coffee in the most sustainable way,” Starbucks said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Starbucks announced that more than 340 Illinois Starbucks stores are now powered with 100% renewable energy from wind power generated in Illinois – including the Reserve Roastery, which is the first Starbucks Roastery location to be wind powered.
Starbucks says it’s exercising corporate social responsibility in other ways, too. Last month, Starbucks announced its plans to invest $10 million in four community lenders to drive economic opportunity in Chicago.
The Roastery also features several local artists throughout the store, including Mexican-born Chicago artist Eulojio Ortega, who spent two months transforming the Roastery’s fire stairwell into a five-story mural depicting coffee agriculture.
Starbucks has scheduled a grand opening for Chicago’s Reserve Roastery, located at 646 N. Michigan Ave., for 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 15.
The location’s hours will be 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to midnight on Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.