Four years ago, Terry Griffin took a break from his career at the Chicago Board of Trade to look into starting a national restaurant chain. It was during this two-year break that Griffin, in his travels around the country, developed a passion for coffee.
“Believe it or not, the most interesting part of the whole thing for me was the coffee,” he said. “I know it sounds strange [considering] I got to taste all these really great foods and wines, but I fell in love with the coffee.”
In January of this year, after 27 years as a floor trader, he decided to buy a coffee house. There were only two criteria he wanted met – the place had to have an in-house roaster and bakers.
Forest Park’s Blue Max Cafe has both.
Located at 26 Lathrop, the Blue Max was founded by Liz Doyle and her husband Lou three years ago and has become a Forest Park favorite. Specializing in fair trade coffee, the café is a must for those looking to indulge their palate.
Doyle sold the business to Griffin in September.
For her part, Doyle said the decision to sell the Blue Max was more of a lifestyle choice than anything else. Having run the shop seven days a week for three years, the founders came to understand the hectic daily routine.
“My husband and I decided that, if there was a good time to pass the baton on the business, this was a good time,” she said.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t an easy decision for Doyle to make. Having worked hard to promote fair trade coffee, she wanted to find a new owner that shared her vision. Possessing the resources to grow the business and keep it going in the right direction, Griffin, she said, was the ideal candidate.
For both Doyle and Griffin, a smooth transition in ownership was a top priority.
“The best compliment we heard is that people didn’t know we switched owners. That, to me, is awesome,” Griffin said.
While the transition has been “unusually good,” according to Doyle, the new owner is working on some key improvements.
A top priority, he said, was for each staff member to receive special training in barista art. For Blue Max patrons, this will hopefully translate into a more consistent product, as well as a delicate, artistic touch to each item served. To bring the coffee to new levels, Griffin is also collaborating with a master roaster in search of fresh, unique blends.
Furthermore, the new owner is in the midst of entering all the business’ data into a computer system. This system will provide a clearer picture of business costs and revenue. With the new system, Griffin can see an hour-by-hour breakdown of Blue Max sales.
Already, this breakdown revealed Griffin was losing money by staying open later on the weekends than during the week. As a result, he has changed his business hours.
Blue Max is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week.
Despite all the changes in the works, Griffin admitted that he’s taking his time implementing anything drastic.
“We’re still getting our feet underneath us,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything until I figure out what the community wants.”
But just because he’s being cautious doesn’t mean he’s isn’t dreaming big.
In the future, said Griffin, he wants to package and sell Blue Max coffee to other businesses, becoming a viable contender against major Chicago coffee roasters like Metropolis and Intelligentsia.
“What I want to do here is try to bring the coffee to another level; take it outside the store and be competitive,” Griffin said.