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At the newest Dollop coffee house that opened recently in the Albion building downtown, customers can get a steaming cappuccino with a fluffy donut, or they can grab a clove of garlic and a bottle of Advil.

Dollop General Store & Café at 1508 Sherman Ave. is the latest iteration of the established coffee house chain, which includes 15 locations in the Chicagoland area, including one at 749 Chicago Ave., a space shared with Hoosier Mama Pie Company.

Owner Dan Weiss said the new location is “basically a fully functional coffee bar and also an urban grocer. You can come in and get a six-pack of craft beer, paper towels, some limes and your latte. That’s the idea. Why not? It’s fun.”

In addition to coffee, the new location sells produce, pantry items, snacks and liquor. Credit: Michael McLaughlin

Weiss, a hip-hop recording artist turned coffee entrepreneur, is no stranger to testing new ideas. He was instrumental in establishing the first Dollop coffee house in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago in 2005 and acquired the business in 2011. After identifying a void in the market, Weiss began installing coffee bars at the base of vertical buildings, a formula he said has been highly successful. 

Dollop General Store & Café connects with the lobby of the new high-rise apartments. “It’s just a no-brainer to have your core be above you,” said Weiss. “Coffee shops are a true neighborhood amenity, so why not also be an amenity to the building?” 

Although coffee is a second career for Weiss, his informal research of the business began during his teen years in Evanston. The Rogers Park native attended Roycemore School and recalled haunting local coffee shops like Café Express and Café Ambrosia after class. “Before I bought the café, I was one of the biggest coffee shop bums in history.” At the now defunct Liquid Potion on Noyes Street, he participated in open mic sessions that laid the groundwork for his future musical endeavors. 

The industrial chic interior was created by Paul Leisen of Walnut Spaceship, a Chicago development and design firm. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Weiss said he discovered that coffee houses are as much about the atmosphere as the coffee, a principle that continues to guide his decisions. Dollop General Store & Café features an inviting retro-industrial vibe and retractable floor-to-ceiling windows that supply abundant natural light and an opportunity for people watching. Stylish walnut-grained tables and comfortable booths provide space to linger over a latte and a made-to-order sandwich. Weiss said he tries to distinguish his locations by adding “a little more soul. My goal is to really be there for the neighborhood in ways that regular coffee shops never thought possible.”

Dollop began roasting their own coffee five years ago, said Weiss, when they had expanded to the point that it became impractical to buy from other vendors.

“We took it very seriously,” he said. “Our coffee is sourced from the smallest farms possible in South America and Ethiopia. We really, really love what we do, and therefore we make good coffee.”

Weiss emphasized that Chicago is a town with no shortage of good coffee, but where folks choose to drink it is a very personal choice. “It’s not really as much of a competition as people think it is,” he said. “It’s all about where you want to be and where you live.”

Nancy McLaughlin

Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable.

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