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Meet Andy Peters of TrueNorth Cafe in Andersonville and Hyde Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Andy Peters.

Andy, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Like most things in life, opening TrueNorth was the result of a series of arbitrary decisions and some very good luck. I wanted to open a cafe in Hyde Park when I was a student at the University of Chicago. After college, I randomly worked for the Illinois Restaurant Association and had the wonderful opportunity to learn a lot about the foodservice industry. I developed ideas about where the industry is going and how to get there first.

I happened to live in Andersonville and used to have problems finding a quick, healthy meal, a good cup of coffee or a nutritious smoothie… I also wanted a place where I could chill with friends or get some work done. I knew a lot of my friends in the neighborhood were looking for the same thing. So, I decided to build it.

I was lucky to find a business partner who shared my vision for the café. She was born in Iraq and moved to Andersonville in the 1990s after fleeing persecution and violence. She is a Doctor and advises on a lot of the nutritional elements of the menu. We both wanted to build a social conscience café that offered great food, coffee, and smoothies and without the snootiness, you see elsewhere. We also shared a vision about using the cafe as a community space where everyone was welcome. This was the inspiration for having all the Democratic candidates for Governor visit the cafe last year for meet & greets.

After two years in Andersonville, the opportunity to open a second cafe in Hyde Park came and I jumped at it. A buddy of mine from College who currently attends Med School at the University of Chicago joined us as a partner. Another friend of mine, Kevin, is running the place. That’s pretty much the secret to how we got to here: great products, friendly service, and a very hardworking and dedicated team.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It hasn’t been easy running TrueNorth, but it has been a lot of fun! There are a lot of logistical challenges to delivering a great product with friendly service to our guests. The most important factor in overcoming challenges is having a great team. When I was about to open in Hyde Park, I called my buddy Kevin and begged him to work with me. We had worked together at the Illinois Restaurant Association and I knew the only way to open a new cafe in Hyde Park without losing any quality in Andersonville was to have someone I could completely trust to make sure the trains ran on time. Kevin and I have built a team that works extremely hard to provide the best experience to our guests.

Our baristas are truly passionate about coffee and food and are very friendly without the airs like some other coffee shops. I make sure the Baristas at TrueNorth are empowered, which allows them to fix any problem without delay, which usually stops little problems from becoming big problems.

TrueNorth Cafe – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
There are a lot of quirky and cool things about our menu, décor, and ambiance. We use local products as much as possible, including our coffee, which is roasted by Metropolis. Many of our ingredients come from other local businesses including tofu from Phonix Bean, a bakery from Defloured, and we buy all out produce from Edgewater Produce, which is our next door neighbor.

Probably the most unique part of our menu is the smoothies. We sell thousands a month. We say they are better than multi-vitamins and delivered in one delicious dosage. Our smoothies are made with fresh ingredients including greens (kale, spinach), fruits (strawberries, bananas, avocados, fresh ginger), liquids (orange juice, pineapple juice, coconut water, almond and soy milk), protein powders (whey and vegan), superfoods (flax, chia, spirulina, wheatgrass, cacao nibs), but are happy to swap the ingredients or make a whole new smoothie if the guest wants something different.

Design & Decor
The design and décor set TrueNorth apart from other coffee shops. The Andersonville cafe was designed, built, and furnished by local Andersonville shops and artists. Through a collaboration with Scout + Design, TrueNorth has a modern approach that includes many reclaimed and repurposed pieces.

We avoided the dark colors, couches, and kitschy things you see in a lot of coffee shops. We kept the place bright with a lot of light and colder colors. We have a lot of linear lines and reclaimed furniture. The most popular part of the design is a wall of globes in the back. The shelves were reclaimed from a hardware store on the west side and the globes were acquired mostly from local resale shops.

The Hyde Park cafe was designed with the same ideas. It has a large sidewalk cafe and a large, beautiful back patio. Both are great places to enjoy a meal and coffee by yourself or with friends.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I’m just proud to have made it this far. I knew going into it that running a cafe would be hard, but I still significantly underestimated how hard it would be. People think entrepreneurs are so dedicated to their business that they love every minute of it, but that’s not true. Burnout is real. It’s so much fun to use your creativity and build something, but its also extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. So, I am just proud that the business is successful and that people really like it. It’s extremely rewarding to see people enjoy something you made for them. Nothing feels better and make me more proud than when people leave and tell me everything was delicious!

I am also proud of having the opportunity to serve my community as a commissioner on the Andersonville Special Service Area, which allows me to have a voice on how local tax dollars are spent for the improvement of the neighborhood. I am also on Mayor Emanuel’s Business Council where I can provide suggestions and feedback for initiatives to support small business growth in Chicago. I’m proud of any contributions I make to these groups.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Mike Rivera, Patrick Engmann

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