Unknown protesters twice last week posted hand-made signs on the windows of Chicago’s Bow Truss Coffee Roasters Pilsen neighborhood shop, with race-related and anti-gentrification messages.
According to Bow Truss owner Phil Tadros, the people behind the protest or vandalism, depending on how police frame it, are bringing up important questions, but in an irresponsible way. Bow Truss currently operates three small shops and a roastery in Chicago, with two more in the process of a buildout and another near Union Station that has just been designed.
“I respect the idea of maintaining culture and tradition, but I’m not okay with cowardly vandalism without directly and productively reaching out,” Tadros tells Daily Coffee News. “Coffee shops are community hubs for discussion and I’d invite the person to come forward and discuss.”
The first signs appeared last Thursday night, with messages including, “This is what gentrification looks like,” and, “Fresh roasted gentrification served here.” More signs followed on Saturday night, including messages in Spanish and English, including “racism and classism smell like your coffee,” and “free cup w/ your 1st lb. fascism roasted daily.”
Pilsen, a neighborhood on the Lower West Side where the Bow Truss opened last August, was primarily inhabited by Eastern Europeans until the 1950s and 1960s, when Latinos primarily of Mexican descent were displaced from the University of Illinois at Chicago campus area. Since then, Pilsen has remained a predominantly Latino neighborhood, although census data and anecdotal evidence suggest that may be changing with an influx of new residents and businesses raising property values.
This ignores the fact that Tadros, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, is of Arab descent, specifically describing himself as “Jordanian Catholic.”
“I don’t really think about race often, since my whole life has been a hodgepodge in Chicago,” says Tadros, whose father went from being an entry-level grocery employee to eventually owning seven neighborhood grocery stores. “People are saying, ‘White people, go home,’ and I’m Jordanian. Anybody who’s not open to other people simply moving in, I think that’s just ignorance.”
Tadros says his experience in Chicago and in business suggests neighborhoods are always changing and evolving, for better or worse, but he feels like animosity toward a neighborhood coffee shop may be misplaced.
“It’s tricky because coffee shops are really this community hub, but some people seem to think of it as wealth,” he says. “I hope people can see the bigger, productive picture and not get caught up in blaming Bow Truss for providing a safe haven for people who enjoy and respect our efforts in coffee.”