You hear it and see it both ways: coffee is competitive, cut-throat, snobby, exclusive, and egocentric; or coffee is collaborative, bond-forming, friendly, and inspirational. In my years in the coffee industry I’ve certainly encountered both types of coffee people—sometimes even inside the same shop!
Here in Chicago, one group has recently emerged to wave the banner of collaboration, organization, and education.
Today, I extend a warm welcome to the Talya Strader, the founder of New Gotham Coffee Community. Talya, feel free to pull up a chair.
First of all, let me just say that it’s a real pleasure to have you join me here at the Table. Before we get started, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you?
My name is Talya Strader and I have been in coffee for ten years, with only five and a half of those being in the Specialty realm. I have wanted to own a coffee bar since I was 12-14 years old, and have been in training for that fateful day since then. I love people, which is why I was initially drawn to coffee. I have seen the most growth, personally, in the last five and a half years with Intelligentsia, as they have amazingly high expectations for quality control as well as efficient and effective management. They rewarded my successes by providing me with opportunities to compete in barista competitions, access to all the coffee education I could want, and chances to be involved in great events like TED talks, Renegade Craft Fair, Pitchfork, and collaborations with Three Floyds. Now I have the great fortune of working for another amazing entrepreneur, Phil Tadros, who finds talented people and invests in them.
I wanted to include a chat with you during the week that the Table is focusing on Bow Truss Coffee Roasters because, being the shop manager, you’re obviously a big part of that operation. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
Not only have all of the Bowtruss and Doejo folks been really cool customers at Intelligentsia Broadway, but they have been involved in the coffee game in one way or another since before I joined Chicago coffee. Katie Bezrouch (Business Development), orderer of all machines and basic genius on shop operations, has been a close friend of mine for the past two years. She’s been a great asset to New Gotham and when I expressed a desire to learn about opening a shop from scratch, she had just the right position for me.
In addition to being the shop manager for Bow Truss, you’ve also recently founded a group called New Gotham Coffee Community. Tell us a little bit about that.
Around regional competition time, I noticed some odd separations amongst the Chicago coffee folk, and really wanted to create a more positive vibe amongst all of us. Any time you go to a competition, you see this really solid gathering of people really oriented to supporting each other, all for the love of coffee. It’s really easy to talk coffee/shop/life with these folks. Oddly enough, I saw a lot of community happening with everyone, but Chicago lacked a presence, and the little presence there was, was completely divided. I saw the need, and wanted to fix it.
Where did you get the idea to start up this group?
I can’t take all the credit here, as I had a desire to unite the Chicago coffee community, but the lovely Brent Hall and Josh Dugue of Counter Culture had the know how. When I reached out to a small smattering of industry folks, they responded and we met up. My idea was to build a community and hold events, and there’s was to get organized and make it legit.
What is the group’s main objective? How do you plan to accomplish that objective?
New Gotham is a coffee community dedicated to connecting coffee professionals and enthusiasts throughout Chicagoland and beyond. We seek to support our community through social, educational and competitive events that remain accessible to all. As a group, we are not affiliated with any specific company, nor do we exist for the purposes of financial gain, but rather to build a network of individuals interested in raising the profile of the Chicago coffee scene.
Are there any events coming up in the near future that New Gotham is going to be a part of?
We will hold events separately from coffee companies, but will do our best to support their events as well. Last night, Talon Coffee had a throw down…After that, Passion House Coffee Roasters is holding a Brew-Down on July 12th in their space on Fulton at 7pm. Max of 20 people compete, and buy in is $10. Competitors must be there by 7pm, and need to bring nothing but themselves. Beer will be sold in order to raise money for SHoP in Hyde Park. There will also be some DJs and other artists doing things in the space during the brew-down.
Finally, our next TNT will be July 26th, and we are still working out the logistics of that.
During a conversation we had, one of the roasters here in Chicago told me, “The Chicago coffee community is like a family. A big dysfunctional family.” In your experience, do you find that to be accurate?
Yes and no. I think, for now, there is a large portion of the Chicago coffee community being “left out.” So, maybe it’s like we aren’t recognizing that they are related to us? I think that it’s more like each shop is a family, and sometimes we recognize that our distant cousins are related to us? However, their are some clear bonds that have been forged inside of the Chicago coffee community. While this is an awesome thing that should be celebrated, it can sometimes intimidate the folks who aren’t being recognized.
What role will New Gotham potentially play in making the coffee businesses here in town more like a family?
I’m not sure. I am hoping to see more people taking the Sara Travis, Nathan Black, Andy Atkinson, Matthew Gassaway, and Daniel Abdalla approach. These folks are getting out to different shops often, and meeting the people inside of them. I am hoping that this group really grows and invests in each other. I also want to see folks sharing the specs for brewing and critiquing each others coffee in a realistic and productive way. Maybe I am hoping we are less like a family, and more like a team? I don’t want other coffee shops coming in and “mothering” or “bullying” me, but rather come along side of me and help me grow.
Has the Community come up against any obstacles yet in its short existence?
I would say that the largest obstacle is that we are all very busy and always working. It’s hard to keep momentum and remember to strive to build this community up little by little each day.
So, who exactly is this group meant for?
Everyone who can relate to coffee in a passionate way.
Is New Gotham something you’d like to see expanded to other cities? Is a there a tangible way somebody who reads this article could do that?
Yes yes! I think that it’s possible that some other cities have already done this in a different way, and there are definitely cities in need of it. I would say that Atlanta, a couple of cities in North Carolina, and Minnesota have already started getting together under the TNT concept. In order to start something in your own city, all you have to do is want it and then organize. We, most of the time, don’t have a clear plan, just ideas. Then, when someone really loves an idea, they lead it and we support. Only speaking for myself here, but if anyone in the United States or beyond, wants any help or ideas on how to build their own community, I would be glad to be a resource.
How can people learn more about New Gotham or keep up to date with its goings on?
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Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.