One of Chicago’s most respected coffee roasters is launching a new location outside the Windy City for the first time, and it’s not going to a predictable, trendy coastal city or even Detroit’s booming downtown.
For its next location, Dark Matter Coffee has instead chosen the reviving stretch of John R between 9 Mile and 10 Mile in what might be called downtown Hazel Park.
The as-yet-unnamed coffeehouse will be located inside Joebar, which, in addition to being a bar with dip sandwiches, also houses a restaurant-within-a-restaurant called Frame.
It will add a third element to its identity when the co-branded Dark Matter concept opens June 2.
“We’re always kind of searching for another place to go have a meeting that isn’t Starbucks,” said Joebar and Frame managing partner Rebecca LaMalfa, who moved to Detroit from Chicago last year. “We love the little place down in Ferndale, but there’s nowhere to sit. And Joe was like, ‘Why don’t we do it here?’ And I said, ‘Hell yeah. I love that.'”
With that, LaMalfa and Joebar proprietors Joe and Cari Vaughn began brainstorming possibilities. LaMalfa, a former “Top Chef” contestant, had previously worked with Dark Matter at Chicago’s Trencherman and later at the Virgin Hotel, where she was executive chef.
LaMalfa sent Dark Matter an email, and it turned out its owners had been looking for her since she’d departed the Virgin Hotel.
“It was serendipitous,” she said. “I was super excited to bring in the guys at Dark Matter. Just integration and brands seeing eye to eye — we have the same philosophy. We take our products very seriously, but we also have a pretty good sense of humor about it. Their coffee was coffee nerdy but fun instead of too cool for school.”
Known for its music-inflected irreverent branding and transparent sourcing practices built on direct relationships with Latin American farmers, Dark Matter recently reached pop-culture status thanks to an extended plug on the Netflix show “Easy.” One of the main characters in the fictional show works at the original Dark Matter location in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, and Dark Matter founder Jesse Diaz even makes a cameo appearance as himself.
“We’re a real vocal, mouthy company that kind of lives its image,” Diaz said by phone. “It’s just kind of organic to understand. People get the vibe just by interacting with us and coming to our spaces. The brand itself is adaptive and hopefully innovative. Every store we’ve done is meant to feel comfortable to its own neighborhood.”
And in keeping with the company’s instinctive ethos, the decision to set up shop in Hazel Park had more to do with a feeling than any kind of focus-grouped market testing.
“To me, it was the people — it was Joe and Rebecca,” Diaz said. “Good people can be successful anywhere they are as long as they’re passionate about what they do.”
The cafe at Joebar, Dark Matter’s fifth location, will open at 7 a.m. weekdays with a variety of espresso-based drinks, drip coffee and cold brew on draft.
Vaughn said the vibe will be very casual and mostly self-serve, with ample Dark Matter branding inside. You’ll order at the counter and take a number as you seat yourself. WiFi and electrical outlets are both readily available for those looking to get some work done.
LaMalfa will also be baking a variety of grab-and-go pastries, and a simple food menu will be added down the road.
Pricing will be in line with a typical third-wave coffee shop, at roughly $4 a latte.
At 4 p.m. the space will flip back into Joebar, but Dark Matter coffee will still be available throughout the evening. Alternately, alcohol will be offered at the cafe, too.
“If somebody wants to come in and get a cup of coffee and a shot of whiskey at 7 a.m., you can get nuts on a Monday,” LaMalfa quipped.
It appears the Hazel Park coffeehouse will be the first in a trifecta of new cafes coming to the area. Both Drifter Coffee and New Order Coffee are expected to debut in nearby Ferndale in the coming months.
Still, Vaughn said they’re not trying to compete with Ferndale establishments. The latest evolution in Joebar’s identity is more about serving the community it’s in.
“We’re not an institution yet,” Vaughn said. “As people move in, we become an institution for them. As the neighborhood changes a little bit the locals here are acclimating to us. We’re happy that they’ve embraced us as an outsider, but we’re in the courtship. We want to serve the neighborhood. We want to make sure that we’re a Hazel Park staple.”
Contact Mark Kurlyandchik: 313-222-5026 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mkurlyandchik and Instagram: curlyhandshake.
By Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press
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