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Pilsen, Little Village, West Loop

Ground Up Coffee Adds Speciality Groceries To Stay Afloat In West Loop

Opened in 2017, the coffee shop was often bustling before the pandemic. Now, with most folks working from home, the owner's pivoted to selling grocery items.

Ground Up Coffee owner Alex Theoharis adds speciality groceries to its coffee shops to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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WEST LOOP — A West Loop coffee shop has partially converted into a mini-corner market to stay afloat during the ongoing pandemic.

Ground Up Coffee and Bites, 900 W. Van Buren St., is selling granola, cereal, alternative milk, protein bars, oats, honey, jams, pasta, dressing, condiments and even dog food.

Owner Alex Theoharis said he started preparing for the pivot in March, worried his coffee shop would be empty after seeing how countries around the world imposed restrictions to slow coronavirus’s spread.

The owner aims to “complement what [the shop] serves with coffee, but also to be a necessity for the neighborhood,” Theoharis said.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee is now selling various granolas, cereals, alternative milk, protein bars, oats, honey, jams, pasta, dressing, condiments and even dog food.

The shop opened in 2017. Before the outbreak, it was often bustling, serving students from University of Illinois at Chicago, West Loop residents and office workers, Theoharis said.

Now, with many people working from home and indoor dining banned, Theoharis knew he had to transition to keep his business alive, he said.

Theoharis removed the desks and communal tables to make way for shelving for grocery items.

“Coffee shops have become an unsustainable model at this time with COVID,” Theoharis said. “People are working from home. They are making coffee at home. We, as coffee shop owners, get less traffic through our doors.”

By adding groceries, Ground Up’s team was able to serve coffee while offering specialty items to nearby residents, Theoharis said.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee is now selling various granolas, cereals, alternative milk, protein bars, oats, honey, jams, pasta, dressing, condiments and even dog food.

Theoharis put in the market in the spring and it’s allowed Ground Up to stay afloat, he said.

Theoharis opened a second Ground Up in July in River North, and Theoharis is selling grocery items there, too.

At both locations, he said, neighbors have “rallied behind them to keep them on their feet.”

Theoharis said remaining open throughout the pandemic has been possible because of neighbors who have propped his small business alive during this pandemic.

“We didn’t plan and couldn’t plan for a pandemic, but because of strong teamwork and understanding our customers … it has allowed us to be successful in today’s definition, which is staying afloat and getting through what 2020 has thrown at us,” Theoharis said.

Because of the success so far, Theoharis said he plans to “double down” and continue offering essential speciality grocery even after the pandemic. 

As the pandemic continues, Theoharis hopes folks continue to support the small businesses in their neighborhood, he said.

“I believe now more than ever it’s important [to support local businesses]. My communities have done that for me and I feel very blessed,” Theoharis said.

Ground Up, 900 W. Van Buren St., is open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends.

Ground Up River North, 363 W. Erie St., is open 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee is now selling various granolas, cereals, alternative milk, protein bars, oats, honey, jams, pasta, dressing, condiments and even dog food.
Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee is now selling various granolas, cereals, alternative milk, protein bars, oats, honey, jams, pasta, dressing, condiments and even dog food.
Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee adds grocery items including dog food in West Loop.
Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Ground Up Coffee and Bites offers Greek pastries.

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