SOUTH LOOP — Dan Weiss has spent years taking risks. The Dollop Coffee Co. owner signed on as the lone retail tenant at a South Loop apartment complex in 2018 before construction was complete — and before the pandemic forced business owners to pivot to survival mode.
So it’s with a bit of luck and a lot of grace the Columbia College dropout finds himself here on a busy afternoon, three weeks into the soft opening of Dollop Cafe, Bar & Kitchen inside NEMA Chicago, 1210 S. Indiana Ave.
Weiss’ tight-knit staff flutters from the kitchen to the coffee bar where customers perched on barstools sip lattes and peck away at laptops. Apartment dwellers mix with college students and harried moms with toddlers and strollers in tow.
Which is exactly the vibe the Rogers Park native was going for.
“I’ve been getting to know our customers and spending a lot of time talking to people, which has been really fun,” Weiss said. “It reminds me why I love this business. I’ve been meeting really interesting people that I don’t meet anywhere else in the city.”
Weiss bought out his friends and original owners of Dollop in Uptown in 2009 and has expanded the business to 19 shops between South Loop and Evanston. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, with a deadly pandemic, a closure and a misunderstanding between himself and Dollop’s former owners making headlines in 2016, but the hip hop artist-turned-entrepreneur doesn’t regret his career pivot.
He said he is playing it a little safer as he gets older, which he believes is a good thing.
“When I was younger I took more chances. That’s who I am. I dove into a lot of things, and at this point you can’t really do that. If you do, you’re taking a risk. Every growth phase we’re in is dangerous,” Weiss said. “The pandemic has changed me in that I’m a little quicker to stop a problem and a little more data driven than I ever was…now it’s time to get serious about what’s happening with our cost and labor and efficiencies and all that. I’m certainly not in the same growth trajectory I was.”
Weiss was able to weather the storm with the help of benevolent landlords who understood how important it was to keep these community spaces running. Investing in his team also paid off; all of Weiss’s upper-level staff returned to work with him when the opportunity arose again.
The NEMA Chicago location is the third to offer a full-service kitchen and the first to offer a late-night menu with craft cocktails with and without alcohol.
Weiss tapped Smyth and the Loyalist’s Roger Landes, a veteran Chicago mixologist who created a bar program sure to convert the fussiest of patrons. Offerings include Muse of Fire ($15) where jalapeño-infused Espolon Blanco Tequila is mixed with hibiscus, honey, cinnamon and lime; and Sigh No More ($15) a blend of Montelobos Mezcal, Fruitful Mission Fig Liqeur, Peychaud’s Bitters, watermelon and lime.
Nonalcoholic beverages like Blue Milk ($5.99), where cold brew meets vanilla mint, pea flower tea and cold foam oat milk; and Orange Dreamsicle ($5.99) an airy drink with cold brew, orange zest, oat milk and sugar also complement Dollop’s “elevated comfort food” menu. Weiss swears by the chilaquiles ($10.99), which come with farm eggs cooked to order and the chicken and waffle ($13.79), where buttermilk-brined and breaded boneless chicken sit atop a buttery housemade waffle topped with fresh fruit and maple butter.
Burger lovers will appreciate Dollop’s take on the classic and the Unami ($9.99), the latter piled with carmelized onions, shiitake mushrooms, melted Swiss and American cheese and kewpi mayo on a potato bun. Both come with a serving of home fries and can be subbed out for Impossible patties. The burgers round out a vegetarian-friendly late night menu offering seasonal salads ($9), Mac & Cheese ($6.99) and Wisconsin Cheese Curds ($8.99).
Weiss hopes to add patio seating for the summer and — in an effort to do his part to help the planet — make everything from takeout containers to coffee cups fully compostable by the end of the year. To do that, Weiss is working with WasteNot Compost, a residential and commercial composting company based on the North Side.
“The amount of waste that a coffee shop creates — and coffee in general — it’s a product that isn’t the best for the environment, Weiss said. “My goal is to be the most compostable, most Earth-friendly coffee company in the city, which may be a little expensive on the front end but will definitely pay off longterm. We can’t stop making coffee, but we can do our part. That’s what communities do.”
Dollop Cafe, Bar & Kitchen is open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday; and 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.
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