U3 Coffee Rendering_Provided

Doc Ryan’s bar rooftop deck will be filled with customers again next spring after an Oak Park couple works to open the U3 coffee shop and roastery in the one-story addition on the original building.

The long-time bar was once made up of two structures – the original two-story building and, later, a one-story addition with a rooftop deck. The 1937 Group, a Chicago-based cannabis grower and seller, bought the original building, while Kristi and Craig Ross, of Oak Park, bought the addition.

 Kristi Ross said that they wanted to open at or near Oak Park, and they were pleasantly surprised to discover that a portion of Doc Ryan’s was on the market. 

Ross said that she and her husband decided to launch U3 Coffee because they wanted a business where they could work together after decades of working in completely different fields, and they felt like coffee was one unifying constant in their professional lives. Opening at the Madison Street corridor, home to some of her favorite restaurants, was a bonus. Ross said that they already have roasting equipment ready to go, and they hope to open in April 2024.

Doc Ryan’s, a Madison Street mainstay for seven decades, closed at the end of March. 

Ross said that she lived in Oak Park “for basically 30 years,” and she and her husband raised their three kids in the village. Kristi Ross’ career has been in finance.  Most notably, she co-founded the Tastytrade online stocks and options platform.  Craig Ross has worked in the pharmaceutical industry. With their kids growing up, they wanted to “do something together for the second half of our lives.”

From the get-go, they wanted to do more than roast coffee.  The company has three other “arms” – the U3 Coffee Exchange, an online store that sells beans from other roasters, not just theirs, U3 Coffee Banks, which raises funds for farmers and other aspiring roasters, and U3 Coffee Media, an online platform that will promote coffee roasters. 

Although U3 technically launched in June 2021, it wasn’t until the couple left their consulting gigs a year later that work began at its earnest. 

Ross said that coming from “highly siloed, highly regulated” financial industry, she was surprised that other area independent coffee shops, such as Kribi Coffee, welcomed them with open arms and offered advice on how to get a roastery and coffee shop up and running.

“[It was] incredibly refreshing to dive into any industry where your competitors were so open to sharing information,” she said.

Ross said that she was particularly grateful to Kribi Coffee founder Jacques Shalo for walking them through the ins and outs of the process.

“He was so genuine and open,” she said. “He invited us to his roastery. We talked to his head roaster.”

Ross said that her husband’s background in pharmaceutical sales came in handy when it came to building connections and networking. 

Independent coffee shops have been putting increasing priority on making sure their coffee beans are sources ethically – in other words, that they come from farms where farmers are fairly compensated for their labor. Ross said that she and her husband personally visited Costa Rica to meet the farmers and made sure that they use sustainable farming methods that wouldn’t harm the soil on the long run.

Customers buying the beans from the online marketplace already have the option of tipping the farmers and Ross said that the practice will continue once the roastery and coffee shop is up and running. 

Ross said that Madison Street corridor was always on their minds as a potential location, and they were pleased that they were able to get Doc Ryan’s annex. She said they closed the deal in May 2023 and they recently secured the building permits. 

“We love the rooftop deck,” Ross said. “We’re going to put it to good use.”

She said that she has “no concern” about being next door to a cannabis dispensary, saying that given the video cameras and other security measures dispensaries are required to put in place, it would, if anything, make U3 safer.

Ross said that she hopes that the roastery will open by April 2024, but given construction issues, she isn’t willing to commit to this date. 

When they do open, one of their goals is to engage with area schools to give kids an opportunity to see how a roastery and a coffee shop operate. Talking about entrepreneurship, Ross said, is one thing – having kids see how a small business works makes it real.

“We want to make sure that [promoting entrepreneurship] is part of who we are and what we do,” she said.