Day Jobs is a series where Aaron Nardi spends a day with creatives at their place of work, candidly talking shop, and getting familiar with their personal outlooks.
While in Chicago for the holidays I decided to spend a day with my old friend Kevin Porter. These days most of Kevin’s life revolves around coffee. At any point of the day Kevin can be seen drinking coffee, selling coffee, talking about coffee, or exploring new ways to expand coffee culture.
I picked up Kevin at his place in Ukrainian Village and we headed downtown to get coffee at one of his accounts. Side note, Chicago has the best neighborhood names and sometimes even better nicknames.
Along the way we caught up a bit and laughed at old stories. It dawned on us how much history we really have together. Kevin recalls, “We met at Scrap (skatepark) like 17 years ago? You were one of the x-up kids, and I guess later I got added to the group too since I was always hanging with you guys.”
Soon after we met we were doing shows, riding for the same sponsors, filming for videos, shooting photos, and going on tours and trips together. Kevin clearly remembers more of this than I do: “You actually made my first riding edit, remember it was me and Ryan Jackson in the Team JV video.” That video actually came out on VHS! I guess it was kind of a lot of our friends’ first video parts and led to a few people getting sponsored and things, but I just tend to forget those kinds of things.
“IN 2009, I WAS THE FIRST [BMX] RIDER TO HAVE A COFFEE SPONSOR, WHICH MORPHED INTO A FULL-BLOWN COFFEE CAREER.”
While life as a professional bmxer is obviously a lot of fun, Kevin was always extremely focused on improving and progressing. It’s been cool to see Kevin parlaying that focus from professional bike riding into carving out his own piece of the coffee world: “My coffee life came from by BMX life. While traveling around the world with my bike, I was always visiting coffee shops and I started to develop a passion for coffee. In 2009, I was the first rider to have a coffee sponsor, which morphed into a full-blown coffee career.”
After starting his own caf'e and his first few jobs in the coffee world, Kevin has really come into his own at Metropolis Coffee Company. He says, “I was lucky to be brought on as a sales rep just about two years ago this week! Since then, Metropolis has seen a much larger growth then we ever expected.”
Moments after we parked downtown, Kevin pulled out his phone and in about 1 min, he had already paid for parking. I was stoked on the app, having flashbacks of parking in LA with all the weird times, rules, zones, and, of course, intentionally confusing signs. Literally the only part of the city that runs efficiently in LA is parking enforcement, which is obviously focused on extorting the most money possible.
Walking into Dollop, I immediately sensed something different about this cafe. Dollop is nicer/cooler than any big chain coffee place, but it’s also more casual, comfortable, less pretentious, and faster than a lot of the boutique places. An ideal meeting of atmosphere, quality product, and efficiency - Dollop is the perfect Chicago coffee spot.
Dollop and Metropolis have a pretty long history. Kevin explained that they’re one of Metropolis’s oldest wholesale partnerships, and have been working with the owner, Dan Weiss, since 2005. Kevin later told me that Dan’s alter-ego is an alternative hip-hop artist named Verbal Kent.
I told Kevin this place seemed a little different with no cash registers, large machines, or walls separating customers from what’s going on behind the counter. Kevin explained that, based on the idea of coffee being a conversation, they went as far as to design the custom counter where all the internals of a typical machine are held under the counter, so all you see on top is a tap.
In 2003, Metropolis’s owner Tony and his father, both having long histories in the coffee world, originally designed the company to be a neighborhood coffee roaster and retailer. With the prestige of winning the Roast Magazine Roaster of the Year award in 2007, the Metropolis began focusing more on wholesale; it’s been growing ever since. “I’m so grateful to be involved during such a huge growth spurt,” says Kevin. “Metropolis takes care of a large portion of Chicago’s coffee, it feels good to know that the city is being fueled with our hard work.”
We headed over to the brand new skate plaza in Grant Park. It was clearly too cold for us to ride, but the plaza looks pretty cool. While we agree it’s cool for the city, neither of us are really into the whole recent skate plaza craze. Kevin said that it was still missing a bowl. For the right person, skate plazas are amazing, but both of us personally have way more fun with actual ramps than ledges, rails, and stairs.
After the park, we head to one of Kevin’s favorite vegan spots: “Upton Natural’s Breakroom is owned by one of my old friends Dan Staackmann. You’ll love it. It’s a Chicago-based faux meat company that bringing healthy plant based food to a city once home to the largest meat packing yards.”
I was little confused as to what he meant by “break room” and why we were heading to a factory, but when we arrived, it became much more clear. So Upton’s produces natural food products, including their own take on natural Seitan. Originally planned to be the break room for factory/office workers, Upton’s decided to open this spot to the public. Pretty cool idea.
Even if you’re not a strict vegan, the food is good. Lots of healthy and tasty options - including sandwiches, tacos, a number of sides, and, of course, Metropolis coffee. Kevin, being a Vegan, loves this place and recommends it to everyone: “Try the vegan breakfast sandwich accompanied by a cup of our La Cordillera blend. It’s a match made in Chicago!”
When we returned to the car, we realized Kevin misread the street sign and, of course, we got a ticket. I guess Chicago is pretty efficient too, but to be fair, the sign wasn’t that confusing, it’s 100% Kevin’s fault for being in a rush to eat. Haha.
After lunch, we headed back towards Kevin’s place to see George Chavez at La Strada in Logan Square. Metropolis and Kevin actually helped make this caf'e a reality.“George reached out to Metropolis with a vision of adding a new caf'e to an underdeveloped area of Logan Square. Together over the last year and a half, we worked through the dreaming stages, planning stages, building stages, and all the way up to now.”
Another 8oz black and a bit of conversation with George and I take a back seat and let Kevin finish his business. “Working with George is fun; I always leave our meetings with a motivating smile on my face.”
Being the holidays, this was a pretty slow day for Kevin. He explained that today was more like a typical weekend for him than a full-on workday. He still managed to visit 3 accounts, talk some business, take a few phone calls, and build for the future. Kevin has always been interested in coffee, but over the day I realized how knowledgeable he has become about not just coffee, but business in general. When I ask him what makes Metropolis’ special, he answered: “We aim to create a positive experience with specialty coffee. One of tools for achieving that and building great long-standing partnerships is to make specialty coffee approachable.”
It’s really cool to see people you’ve known since they were kids grown up working hard, doing interesting things, doing them well, and enjoying it. I’m proud of my friend. Knowing Kevin’s traveled and considered moving, I ask him what has kept him in Chicago this long. Also, having spent a lot of my life in this city, his response is hard to agree with:
“Chicago Rules, plain and simple.”