Owners of Caribou Coffee announced in early April that they will be closing and/or transition all Chicago store locations to other businesses or to their sister brand, Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Lakeview residents weigh in on the news, and offer insight as to what they think are the true causes.
The Chicago coffee scene has been changing for some time, but the most recent news of a major chain, Caribou Coffee, departing the city has upset many customers, and conversely has not even come to the attention of other coffee fans in the city. The Lakeview and Lincoln Park areas will be heavily affected by the closure and/or conversion of six Caribou locations to take place within the next year.
In the last three weeks, Joh. A. Benckiser, the Viennese owner/operator of Caribou Coffee and Peet’s Coffee & Tea chains announced closures of 80 Midwestern Caribou locations and an additional 88 midwestern conversions from Caribou to Peet’s. Chicago houses 16 of the Caribou locations, two of which will be permanently closed. Fourteen Chicago stores will be converted into Peet’s Coffee & Tea within the next 12-18 months, reports say.
One Caribou fan and DePaul University Sophomore, Teddy Flynn, said,” I heard they were closing from employees I’m friends with…. I’ve been coming here for years because I live around the corner.” He added, “I hope Peet’s is as good or better, I don’t really care for the little boutique feel, which seems to be turning into the rend in this city.”
Trend or here to stay, the Chicago coffee scene has shifted from chain-run to a more independent, boutique feel. While the Chicago Tribune reported in interviews with Joh. A. Benckiser chairman Bart Becht, that the company claims the closures are due to poor sales in the region, many Chicago Caribou fans claim the smaller shops are taking over.
A manager at East Lakeview café, The Coffee & Tea Exchange, located across the street from the 3300 N. Broadway Caribou location, preferred to remain anonymous, but said, “nowadays most people are taking their time with their coffee, from start to finish. To us, that means they don’t want it made in a hurry, they don’t want to be rushed to finish it, and they prefer some basic amenities while they drink it.”
Nancy Cirkic, 26, of the West Lakeview area has been going to the 3240 North Ashland Avenue Caribou location for over a year. She feels that the news of the closures and transitions are completely surprising.
“It feels pretty sudden, and from what I can tell Caribou was the next big chain here in Chicago aside from Starbucks, so I’d expect them to attract a decent amount of customers. I mean, I like their product, and didn’t think I was alone there.”
Food Blog, Eater (Chicago) published reports speculating that the smaller coffee shops were largely due to Caribou’s poor regional sales and brand recognition in the area. Joh. A. Benckiser claims that the brand is much stronger to the north, where the company headquarters are located (Minnesota), and will focus more heavily on continuing to foster their brand management in that region.
Despite two immediate closures of Caribou locations in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, the Lakeview area has yet to experience the effects of the transition announced in early April, but will surely notice a change in the coffee café scene. Whether that change will benefit fans of Joh. A. Benckiser’s brands, or the tastes of the boutique-café goers remains to be seen.