A Chicago coffee producer with a mission of employing military veterans has selected the Pullman neighborhood as the site of its first restaurant, opting to join the community’s growing roster of businesses.
Mark Doyle, a partner at Veteran Roasters, said it plans a $7.4 million restaurant, coffee roaster and microbrewery. Working with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a nonprofit development firm, his company plans a 16,000-square-foot restaurant with seating for up to 100 people.
It would be built on vacant property at about 750 E. 111th St., west of 111th and Doty Avenue and near the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center. Doyle said the restaurant should create 60 to 70 full-time jobs for veterans.
Asked what drew him to Pullman, Doyle called it a “burgeoning” area where 3,500 people work within an eighth of a mile of his property. “They wanted retail development in the community, and we wanted to put our toe in the market for retail,” Doyle said.
Up to now, Veteran Roasters has sold its coffee online and to hotels and restaurants. Doyle said clients include Hyatt Hotels, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants and the Del Frisco chain of steakhouses. He said business has recently bounced back, but the shutdowns during the pandemic forced the company to think about new markets.
The restaurant still has to pass city zoning approvals. Doyle said he hopes that will come by the end of the year so that he can start construction next year and being operating early in 2024.
The project has strong support from Pullman’s alderperson, Anthony Beale (9th). “We are excited and proud that we will be fostering a community of veterans who share our passion and commitment to building a better future,” Beale said, noting that the community for years struggled to draw interest from restaurateurs.
When a Culver’s opened last November, local leaders said it was the community’s first standalone restaurant in more than 30 years. Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives turned Pullman’s challenge — an abundance of old steel company property — into an asset, marketing its relatively cheap land prices and easy access to the Bishop Ford Freeway.
The proposed restaurant is slated to get city and state subsidies. Doyle said he expects $2 million from the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which is bankrolled by revenue from downtown projects. Another $3 million is expected in a state grant, Doyle said. His company has a contract to buy the property from Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.
Veteran Roasters produces its coffee at 328 N. Albany Ave., where Doyle said four veterans work. He said another four are employed at an affiliated business, Rags of Honor, which produces clothing with patriotic slogans.
For the brewpub part of the restaurant, Doyle said he intends to partner with Chicago’s Haymarket Brewing. The restaurant’s design is being worked up by Laszlo Simovic Architects.
Doyle did not serve in the military but went to Afghanistan as a civilian, working for a year as a private contractor on an anti-corruption task force.
“Finding employment and secure housing can be challenging for veterans, especially recovering from the demands of service,” Doyle said. Pullman, he said, has developed housing and other services that can help veterans transition to civilian life.
Businesses that have launched there in recent years include distribution sites for Whole Foods and Amazon, a Method soap factory and a Gotham Greens commercial greenhouse.
Investments over the last decade total more than $400 million, creating 2,000 jobs, according to Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.