Coffee Break: A Conversation with Chicago Entrepreneur Philip Tadros

Philip Tadros’ businesses are deeply rooted in Chicago. Tucked back along Broadway Ave., Bow Truss Coffee Roasters’ flagship store and the digital agency Doejo – both of which Tadros founded – call Lakeview home.

For Tadros, entrepreneurship is not new. He grew up in Chicago with a self-made, entrepreneur father. He never second-guessed following this same path. He opened his first coffee shop at age 19 and more than a decade later launched Bow Truss, a roasting company whose storefront presence is quickly expanding.

While Tadros’ journey started with coffee, it has evolved beyond so much more than that.

What sparked your interest in coffee?

When I was 19, I dropped out of school, and I opened a coffee shop. I really couldn’t open up a bar or a restaurant, because I was too young. I kind of fell into coffee by accident. I fell in love with the cozy community hub of people sitting there and working in a productive safe haven – that was beautiful to me. I loved seeing people all bundled up on a winter’s day working on projects. I’m very stimulated by the general public enjoying the time-out or the recharge.

And during the coffee shops, the agency birthed. And then once we started making money with the agency, it allowed me to go back into coffee and do it the right way [with Bow Truss] and start sourcing coffee, roasting and distributing.

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Today, you have Bow Truss locations in Lakeview, River North and Pilsen, your most recent addition. How will this growth continue?

The flagship is in Lakeview, but the roasting operation is leaving to go to Hubbard with an even larger machine that’s going to be sitting next to our current machine. We’re going to be doubling our retail stores. And our production facility will quadruple. We just signed a lease at Michigan and Jackson, which is under construction now. We have a 10,000 square foot roasting facility opening up on Hubbard, next to Salvage One. And then we have another one opening in Logan Square and another one by Union Station opening soon.

What is the goal for these spaces?

I’m stepping away from the “office away from the office.” That used to be the goal in the past. Now it’s more about a recharge. I want people to talk to each other more. I feel like people are plopping down their laptops at places. I think it’s obnoxious. Go to a co-working space for that. Go to the office for that. Go home for that. I’m making these spaces smaller on purpose, so people can communicate.

I remember walking into [our River North location] before, and it was jam-packed, and people were just chattering everywhere, and it was awesome. It’s small enough where you’re all stacked together, and it creates conversation, whether it’s with the person you’re with or the person right next to you. It’s a place where you go, recharge and go back out into the world.

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Tadros’ team, photo: Doejo

How involved are you in the design of the spaces?

I do it all. It’s based on the first store. I just grabbed a counter, we had a canoe, and I cut it in half, because I didn’t know what else to do with it. The thing that’s holding it up – the palette underneath it – Is the actual wooden palette the espresso machine was delivered on. We really organically were just messing around and designed the shop, and then we just carried it on like “Oh, that’s our look and brand.”

You answered my next question, which was going to be, “What’s the story behind the canoe?”

I was just playing around. And now I’m looking on Craigslist for more canoes!

Can you talk more about the role of community in your endeavors?

I’m involved in a co-working space called “SPACE” at 444 N Wabash. SPACE is really a mixture of everything we’ve ever done, if you think about it. We started in the coffee shop world, where people are working. And we go to the digital world where we’re helping all of these start-ups. And then SPACE allows people to work. It’s like a productive community that’s a step above the coffee shop. So we have the community at the coffee shop, and then we also have the professional collaboration.

Where do you draw inspiration for your different projects?

I love start-ups. I love projects. I want to create things. And it’s really hard for me to not. I’m working on even more projects right now that people don’t know about, because you meet somebody, and an idea sparks, and it could reasonably go to market. If it’s something that’s made in your mind and ends up happening, that’s cool.

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How has Chicago been an influence?

I’ve been in Chicago all of my life. Chicago is a great city for business. In the tech world, Chicago is the leader in a lot of pay-now type services, whether it be Grub Hub, Basecamp, Groupon or Threadless. Chicago kind of has that level-headed big-city-business mentality that deals with commerce right away. I think it’s always going to mean a realistic approach when doing business. 

You’re also involved in a venture called Aquanaut – can you tell us more about that?

Aquanaut is a brewery. It’s really about timing and good people. I met Eric [McNeil], the brewmaster, and he’s got a good product and a good artist, and so we’re really just investing in good talent. So we’re in the beverage world, and we have a lot of relationships with restaurants downtown and bars, so we thought it just made sense, because we are in the distribution business, as well. So we source, create and distribute products, whether it be coffee or beer.

We’ve seen the term “serial entrepreneur” used to describe you. How do you feel about that term?

I guess it means I’m constantly doing. It’s not just one project. I guess it’s a natural thing for me.

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You said you’re working on some other projects – is there anything you can share or is it being kept quiet for now?

It’s being kept quiet, but we might be working with a really, really reputable chef on another alcohol production, but I can’t say what it is right now.

Is there any entrepreneurial advice you have for TCC’s readers?

Not to be cheesy, but just go ahead and do it. Stop being so afraid. The big things that hold people back are “I don’t have enough money” or “I don’t have enough time” or “I don’t know if it’s going to work.” Those are all excuses. Who cares? Just do it.

Photos: Nancy Rahman

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