On July 1st 1991, Michael and I officially opened Uncommon Ground Coffeehouse & Café at 1214 West Grace St. The 850 square foot space contained seating for 25 guests indoors and another 20 seats outside, a pastry case full of tempting treats, an espresso machine and a very rudimentary kitchen in which we made all of our food from scratch. Initially, it was only Mike and me waiting on guests, preparing bowls of gourmet lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, & hot chocolates, along with eggs espresso, French toast, uncommon hummus, Helen’s grilled chicken sandwich and our veggie chili. We opened at 7 am and closed at 10 pm and from the beginning used our walls as a gallery space for local artists and the area in front of the pastry case as a “stage” for local musicians to perform. In 1994, on a quiet snowy night, Jeff Buckley came to Uncommon Ground and shared his magic with a small group of highly appreciative guests. That show received the honor of the best performance of the year from Greg Kot.
Over the years, we experienced all kinds of challenges and obstacles and grew steadily. We expanded into the 1220 West Grace storefront in 1996, adding a real restaurant kitchen and doubling the size of our space. In 1997, we finally added a liquor license and then in 2005 expanded into 3800 North Clark, doubling our space again. Now we have taken over all six commercial spaces in the building! In 2007 we added our second location in Edgewater. It was our intention from the very beginning to create a space of comfort and happiness; a place where care was taken to provide the best quality ingredients in our food and drinks and to create a community center. We were smoke-free from the start, used credit cards at 20% interest and family loans to finance our beginning and have never had an advertising budget. Our name, Uncommon Ground, provided our mission: UNusual, UNexpected, distinctly different, outside or beyond normal experience; it gave our idealism a solid platform and over the years we have grown into a fuller meaning of our name by adding the first certified organic rooftop farm (at our Devon location) which has recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary, and organic sidewalk farm (at our Clark location) and our most recent addition in 2014 of Greenstar Brewing at 3810 N Clark, the first certified organic brewery in Illinois and one of only about a dozen breweries in the US that brew ONLY organic beer. We are elated to be able to buy all local ingredients: grain from Wisconsin hops from Michigan and yeast from right here in Chicago, as well as some hops, black currants and green coriander from our own organic farm on Devon to produce our tasty brew! In May 2018, we expanded the brewery by adding 5 more fermentation tanks, and now we are able to brew all the beer we need for 12 tap handles at both locations! For a period of 5 years we certified with the Green Restaurant Association to become a “Guaranteed Green” restaurant in Chicago and implemented a wide variety of actions to make our business as sustainable as we could by focusing on: local, regional and organic food & beverage purchasing, energy efficiency (we have solar thermal panels that heat our water at both locations), waste management, water usage, chemical and pollution reduction, reusables & environmentally friendly disposables, and sustainable furniture & fixtures. Our Devon location received the honor of being the “Greenest Restaurant in America” in 2012 and the Clark location became the Greenest Restaurant in America in the next certifying cycle in 2013. Looking back, we have so much to be thankful for as this 27 year achievement would not have been possible without the help from our family & friends, countless artists & musicians, thousands of staff members, purveyors, local farmers, artisan producers and most importantly the millions of guests that have spent time in uncommon ground, supporting our mission & vision: Nourish Community, Nurture Nature.
And finally massive thanks to my incredible, tenacious husband Michael, the best partner in life & work & love a girl could hope for, none of this would have happened without your unswerving support and belief in the ideals and sometimes “crazy” ideas (a farm on a roof?) I came up with. We have accomplished so much together—and we did it our UNCOMMON way!