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Former Starbucks Manager Takes the Mound at Chicago’s Groundswell Café

Groundswell Coffee Chicago

Photo by Andrew Klass | | @AndrewKlass

Groundswell Café, a new Chicago micro-roaster, has opened its doors in Ravenswood, offering visitors a comfortable variety of brewed coffee and espresso options.

The in-house roasts are happening in a vivid lime-green Diedrich IR 5 standing on the lively cafe floor furnished with custom recycled barn-wood tabletops and bench seating for a warm and inviting feel. A swirling black and white wall-size mural painted by Chicago artist Brittany Bindrim echoes the swirling of milk and coffee while adding a sense of motion to the 1,500-square-foot, 30-seat space.

To help him realize his vision for Groundswell, on the bar and on the Diedrich, owner Jason Foster recruited a team of fellow industry veterans. Foster told Daily Coffee News that the staff includes Eric Anderson, who Foster says has about a decade of experience in specialty coffee, mostly accrued at Intelligentsia. Also at Groundswell is Candyce Love, who built her barista brawn in part at Spyhouse in Minneapolis. “It’s a really ambitious team, and to say they’ve got the barista thing down would be an understatement,” said Foster. “They’re very skilled.”

Foster originally moved to the windy city from Minnesota on a baseball scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago. Lucky for Chicago coffee-lovers, Foster’s dreams of pitching in the majors didn’t pan out, although a degree in business did. After several years in the food and beverage industry he took a management position with Starbucks, and found himself at the helm of several of the highest-volume Starbucks stores in Chicago, including at the Willis Tower and near other tourist hotspots.

“When I take something on, I take it on fully,” said Foster. “When I got to Starbucks, the first week I immediately went to the library and got a dozen books on coffee. I started immersing myself in coffee, and found out how deep the rabbit hole went.” It took about a year before Foster’s passion and curiosity about coffee began to outpace his duties at Starbucks, and he began roasting at home.

“I would go to Sweet Maria’s, order nine or 10 pounds of different varieties, and see what I could do with them,” Foster said. On a thoroughly Frankenstein’ed Fresh Roast fluid-bed roasting machine, Foster said maybe one out of every five roasts was actually good. “But very once in a while I would hit that elusive perfect roast profile,” Foster said, “and that’s what was so rewarding about it, for me.”

Foster now sources beans for Groundswell from Café Imports in Minneapolis. “That’s also where I attended a bunch of roasting and barista workshops. For pretty much everything having to do with coffee education, Café Imports is where I go, because it’s right by where I grew up. I like to go up there, spend time with family, do some coffee education. I’ve got a good relationship with those guys and I really like doing business with them.”

The Groundswell Café offers drip, Hario V60 pour-over, and a full range of classic espresso drinks prepped on a sturdy La Marzocco Linea. A variety of sweets and a few panini are also on the menu, although the focus of the business is decidedly the coffee, including a tapped cold brew. Foster hopes to expand into the wholesale market, with additional Groundswell stores also a possibility for the future.