Smalltown Coffee, a local coffee roaster, has found a permanent home after hand-roasting coffee beans at Windmill Brewing in Dyer for the last few years.
Owners Annette McKeown and Elizabeth Steel, who helped the craft brewery launch the recently opened Windmill Cafe, plan to open a new roastery and coffee bar in a 148-year-old building at 306 E. Goldsborough St. in Crown Point. They've already built up a local fan base through a subscription service, and by selling their coffee at places across the Region like Windmill Brewing, Grindhouse Cafe, Provecho Latin Provisions, Cafe Fresco and Smartbelly Smoothie Co.
"It will be more of a coffee bar than just a cafe," McKeown said. "We want to take a fresh approach to coffee and make it more of an experience. We want to present coffee from different regions and parts of the world, and show what's possible in coffee. It's like craft brewing. You can get a commercial lager from a large company or go to New Oberpfalz and try one of their award-winning lagers that has a more complex flavor profile."
McKeown and Steel, who have more than 14 years of combined experience as professionals in the coffee industry, have been renovating a historic, 1,700-square-foot brick building in the Bridgeport neighborhood about a half a mile northeast of the downtown square. It once housed a fish and meat market.
"The building is super cool," McKeown said. "We have these amazing old photos that came with the building. They invite you to imagine what life must have been like in Crown Point nearly 150 years ago. The streets are still dirt and the signs say things like, 'hot bologna frankfurters' and 'premium boiling beef.' Diet preferences have begun to shift a bit since then, but then again there is nothing quite like a good Chicago dog ...
"We also found an old wooden barrel in the rafters when we were demoing that has 'Crown Point' stamped on it. It’s an honor to begin to breathe new life into something that has been a part of the city for so long."
The buildout started recently and plans call for moving Smalltown's roasting operations there this spring. The larger location will let the owners increase roasting production to keep up with demand at retail stores, online and through their Coffee Club subscription service.
"It has been fun gathering with our Coffee Club members to geek out about specialty coffee, try new brew methods, and learn about how to craft great coffee at our quarterly Coffee Club events," McKeown said. "Similar to craft beer, specialty or craft coffee is an area that has seen a good deal of growth recently. I think this is one thing that makes what Windmill is doing so cool. They are approaching both beer and coffee from a craft perspective and I think this is reflective of what is happening in society from a broader perspective as well — a shift from a more mass-produced or 'more for less' perspective to one of valuing intention, skill, excellence and the creativity of the craftsman. Plastic pods are out — well-made brews are in."
Smalltown Coffee Co. also hopes to expand distribution and use the coffee bar as a way to introduce more consumers to craft coffee. The coffee bar will open sometime after the roastery does, and include some food offerings.
"Like beer and wine, the potential in coffee is broad and still greatly untapped," McKeown said. "Did you know there are more flavor and fragrance notes available in coffee than wine? Pretty crazy. There is a lot to experience and enjoy and we plan to discover and share as much of that as possible."