More development is slated in Pullman, the Far South Side neighborhood home to Chicago’s Pullman National Monument.
Chicago-based Veteran Roasters has plans for a two-story coffee roastery, cafe, microbrewery and restaurant it says could create between 55 and 65 jobs for local veterans. The 16,000-square-foot project is planned for vacant land west of 111th Street and Doty Avenue, near the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center.
The project comes as part of a steady stream of new investment in the neighborhood, which since the opening of the visitor center on Labor Day in 2021 has seen the addition of a Wing Stop and a Culver’s, its first new stand-alone restaurant in three decades. Last month, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, which has worked on much of the recent development in Pullman, announced plans for a Hampton by Hilton Hotel on vacant land in the neighborhood. The Bielenberg Historic Pullman Foundation, one of the many civic organizations dedicated to historical preservation and education in the neighborhood, plans to open a coffee shop later this year in a long-vacant mansion across from the monument grounds.
Mark Doyle, the owner and founder of Veteran Roasters, said the cafe-brewery project could break ground next spring and open in early 2024. The project is still subject to approval by the city’s Plan Commission, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives said in a news release. CNI is selling the vacant land to Veteran Roasters for $375,000, Doyle said.
Doyle said he was impressed by existing efforts to revive development in Pullman. CNI says that over the last decade, it has helped secure more than $400 million in public and private funding in the neighborhood that has helped to create almost 2,000 jobs.
“I’ve walked the neighborhood several times to see how many people are taking pride in that neighborhood, and moving in there, building and rebuilding their houses,” Doyle said. “I just thought it’d be a great thing to be a part of.”
Veteran Roasters now roasts its coffee in a facility at 328 N. Albany St. in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. The pandemic hit the business — which had focused on providing coffee to restaurants and hotels — hard. It pivoted to selling its roasts online but is still down from nine full-time employees pre-pandemic to four, all of whom are veterans, Doyle said. Doyle’s screen-printing venture and Veteran Roasters’ parent company, Rags of Honor, also employ four veterans.
Doyle said he hadn’t yet made a decision about whether Veteran Roasters will keep brewing in East Garfield Park or if its entire operation will move to the Pullman site. Its microbrewery partner in the Pullman neighborhood will be Haymarket Brewing, he said.
Veteran Roasters was allocated $2 million in Neighborhood Opportunity Fund dollars for the Pullman project in 2019; the city program uses money generated by downtown development to fund commercial projects in underserved neighborhoods. It’s also slated to receive $3 million from the state this fiscal year from the Build Illinois Bond Fund administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Doyle estimates the project could cost about $7.4 million in total; Veteran Roasters hopes to close the gap with a mix of new market tax credits and either private funding or a bank loan.
The project has backing from Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward.
“This is going to be an ongoing piece of the puzzle for the renaissance that we have going on in the Roseland-Pullman community,” Beale said.
Most jobs at the cafe-brewery will likely be full time, Doyle said. Veteran Roasters pays between $18 and $22 an hour.
The Veteran Roasters project will have seating for between 75 and 100 people. Sit-down dining has often been cited by neighborhood residents as a priority for commercial development in the neighborhood.
Over the summer, Beale described development in Pullman as “a cake that is half-baked.”
Tourism numbers have been slower to grow than expected, National Parks Superintendent Teri Gage told the Tribune last summer.
Gage estimated that about 500 people were coming through the visitor center each week, lower than the 750 to 1,000 she initially anticipated. A 2013 National Parks Conversation Association study found that a National Historical Park in Pullman could attract 300,000 visitors each year by its 10th full year of operation. The monument is not currently designated as a national park, though legislation sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Robin Kelly to change its designation — and, advocates hope, increase its visibility — cleared a Senate committee last summer.