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Fairgrounds Coffee Bar opening March 29 in Bucktown

A rendering of the inside of Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea, coming soon to Bucktown. (Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea)

Michael Schultz believes the coffee shop model is antiquated, and he wants to do something about it — quickly. On Wednesday, March 29, he’ll open the first location of Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar in Bucktown, very near the Six Corners intersection. But that’s just the beginning.

Very shortly afterwards, a Fairgrounds is set to open in the Chicago Athletic Association, followed a month later by an outlet in downtown Los Angeles. Before the end of 2017, Schultz hopes to have Fairgrounds locations in Minneapolis, Miami, Houston, and Brooklyn.

What’s wrong with traditional coffee shop? Schultz thinks it all comes down to choice — in that most most cafes lack it. "I’d go out for coffee with friends to Starbucks, and we’d be locked into one brand of coffee," he says. "Then we’d go to a bar and there would be a hundred different beers. Why is it like this for beer and not coffee?"

At Fairgrounds, Schultz will offer a variety of coffee brands, allowing customers to choose from nationally acclaimed options like Stumptown Coffee Roasters (Portland, Ore.), Irving Farm Coffee Roasters (New York) and Verve (Los Angeles), along with a collection of local favorites like Dark Matter Coffee and Metropolis.

While you’ll be able to drop in for a quick cup of coffee, Fairgrounds will also offer eight cold brews on draft, along with beverage flights. Schultz is also proud of a pour-over coffee process that he says is much quicker than the usual method.

Schultz also thinks that most cafes treat tea "as a second fiddle" to coffee, but he says at Fairgrounds the beverages will be equals. That means that there’ll be a large tea program, including sparkling tea on tap, and a matcha bar that will specialize in green tea. Fairgrounds will also serve what Schultz calls "elixirs," which he describes as tea cocktails without alcohol. As an example, the rainforest remedy elixir includes matcha, frozen pineapple, coconut water and coconut milk.

Fairgrounds will also offer a large food menu, which Schultz hopes will further set his project apart from the cafe pack. "I’ve never woken up and thought, ‘I have to go to Starbucks for the sandwiches,’" says Schultz. "It’s crazy that you go for coffee, but you don’t want to eat there." The final menu is still being finalized, but expect a steak sandwich and a variety of salads and snacks, including many that have coffee and matcha integrated into them. A number of grab-and-go items will also be available.

Though this is Schultz’s first coffee shop for the general public, he owns Coffee & Tea Bar Hospitality, which runs corporate coffee cafes, including ones inside Yelp’s Chicago office, ConAgra and the Chicago Board of Options Exchange.

Schultz has a sentimental reason for his first Fairgrounds location: "My wife was a CPS teacher for many years at the nearby A.N. Pritzker School. On the first day we’ll donate 20 percent of sales to the Friends of Pritzker parent organization. Giving back to the community is very important to me."

Schultz also hopes to avoid the pretentiousness of certain coffee bars, where you’re intimidated to try things. "While we are very knowledgable, it’s just coffee and tea," says Schultz. "People should be able to come and relax."

Fairgrounds Coffee and Tea Bar, 1620 N. Milwaukee Ave., is slated to open March 29.
Twitter @nickdk

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