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Starbucks’ New Chicago Reserve Roastery Is a Coffee Break Worth the Wait

[RETHINK Retail] — The rain and cool weather weren’t going to stop the 100 or so people standing outside Starbucks’ brand new Reserve Roastery. Guidance stanchions and retractable belts kept the crowd in control so they weren’t blocking other downtown Chicago pedestrians. Two police officers stood close by while one street musician played Christmas songs for tips.

The Magnificent Mile is already notorious for shoppers zooming in and out of department stores, boutiques and restaurants. During the holiday season, this neighborhood picks up even more shoppers. But the line around the corner of 646 N. Michigan Ave. made pedestrians slow down to figure out what this particular excitement was about.

One woman, who looked to be in her early 60s, stopped to ask the obvious question that other pedestrians may have been thinking: “You’re really standing in this long line just for coffee?

The 20-something guy in front of me looked over at her sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. With a perplexed look on her face, she took one long look at the still-growing line and walked away, mumbling to her friend.

Yes, we were indeed standing in this line wrapped in our hats, boots and winter coats, waiting for the security guards at the entrance to let us into the five-floor Reserve Roastery. After a handful of people got tired of waiting and duck-walked under the crowd-control belts, John, a Starbucks employee, came outside to pass out Starbucks Reserve Roastery branded umbrellas.

Twenty minutes later, my section of the line was rescued from the rain and strolled into the warmth of Hawaii—Hawaiian coffee blackboards, that is.


First impressions | Photo by Shamontiel Vaughn


Experience the Roastery

Retailers are finding creative ways to lure customers into “honeymoon registries.” And Starbucks Reserve Roastery should probably be added to the wedding registry wish list. It’s an easy answer to not only married-couple date nights but also after-work hangouts, girls’ and guys’ nights out, and a hot spot for singles.

But what makes the Reserve Roastery any different from the two Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts that I passed coming from the Chicago Red Line CTA station to get here? Pretty much everything.

From the lobby floor of the 35,000-square foot building, I spotted the bottom of a 56-foot cask. With slits to reveal freshly roasted coffee moving through tubes in all directions, it’s guesstimated to house more than 500 cups of coffee per day.


The Magnificent Mile Reserve | Photo courtesy of Starbucks


Looking for the perfect holiday gift? On a tourist go-to like the Magnificent Mile, it only makes sense to step inside to get ideas for holiday shopping. Just about everything a coffee-loving shopper could want is found on the lobby floor before they can even get to the escalator: Mac Blackout exclusive apparel, thermal mugs, cups, jackets, pour-over drip coffee brewers, French press options, coffee passports, coffee bag blends, eco-friendly tote bags, stationary and more.


As to be expected at a Starbucks location, recycling bins are everywhere. Even the hand-held shopping baskets come in an environmentally friendly cloth fabric.

At any restaurant, food and drinks are a given. But in here, it’s on a higher scale. Floor 1 has a Reserve Coffee Bar for customers on the go—if they happen to have at least 20 minutes extra to wait in line outside before getting to the next line inside. Floor 2 has a Princi Bakery & Cafe. Floor 3 has an Experiential Coffee Bar. Floor 4 has an Arriviamo Cocktail Bar. And the fifth floor’s now-closed roof terrace will be a hit come summertime.


A new Chicago ‘must-see’ | Photo courtesy of Starbucks


“You are not getting the same kind of coffee at all when you come here,” said Denisse Perez, a Commessa for the second-floor’s Princi Bakery & Cafe. “We are roasting everything in-house, so everything is 100 percent guaranteed fresh. We also do not carry the same coffee as other Starbucks locations, and we build our drinks differently. We offer exclusive ingredients, including from Italy. Expect to spend a little bit more money than any other Starbucks, but it’s because of the integrity that we try to keep.”


Fresh eats | Photo courtesy of Starbucks


And it is indeed a little pricier than other Starbucks traditional locations. But this venue has a little something for everyone, including coffee-inspired cocktails, liquid-nitrogen gelato, fresh bread, cornetti, focaccia, pizza, salads, cakes and tarts. Coffee bars will make personalized drinks. Get the trendy drink of the day like I did—Hawaii Ka’U—or enjoy the fresher taste of their distinct hot chocolate.


Cocktails, anyone? | Photo courtesy of Starbucks


If none of that appeals to you, the seating area is full of guests of all age ranges typing away on their laptops, enjoying the view of Chicago from their window seats, bunching together to take selfies and chat with their friends, or reading alone at a corner table.


Have a seat | Photo courtesy of Starbucks


Come for the coffee, stay for the culture

There’s no mistaking the exclusive vibe here versus other cafes. Chicago’s Starbucks Reserve Roastery is the sixth Starbucks Reserve Roastery in the world and the third in the United States. Worldwide locations are in Shanghai in China, Milan in Italy and Tokyo in Japan. The only other U.S. locations are Seattle, Washington and New York City.

And once you’re inside, there’s a different kind of culture on each floor. It’s a perfect blend of retail meets hospitality. Instead of just grabbing a food menu or paying for products online, customers are offered individual customer service as needed. Sales (and food) representatives are always standing nearby, ready to answer any questions related to everything from coffee roasting tips to travel- and apparel-related questions.

Even with a team of 200-plus baristas, mixologists and bartenders, commessas and managers all trying to get their jobs done, almost all of them make eye contact with customers, smiling and speaking as they zoom off to their next venture.

An afternoon here is one worth experiencing on your own—even if it’s “just for the coffee.”


*Hero image courtesy of Starbucks