New Starbucks Reserve Roastery: A love letter to Chicago

Designer Jill Enomoto talks about the most unique and must-see design elements of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago. At five stories and 35,000 square feet, it’s the largest Starbucks in the world.

On a recent cab ride from the airport into downtown Chicago, the driver gestured toward the gleaming, five-story building at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Erie Street.

“This was the original Crate & Barrel flagship store,” he told his passenger, Jill Enomoto. “And soon it’s going to be the biggest Starbucks in the world.”

In the back seat, Enomoto – the Starbucks vice president leading the design of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago – grinned.

“Really?” she said to the driver. “Tell me more about it.”

She absolutely loves moments like that. And while cab drivers and people in general are transfixed by the Chicago Roastery being the world’s largest Starbucks, there’s so much more to talk about than size.

“We’re bringing Starbucks Reserve coffee, roasting and serving the freshest coffee, and doing it all in one place for people to be able to experience,” she said. “I think that is a beautiful story, and we've given our partners and roasters the space to tell that story.”

The design of the Roastery, which opens to the public Friday, tells the story as well.

Enomoto, who has been a Starbucks partner since 2008, has worked on a wide range of design projects and initiatives for the company. In 2014, Liz Muller, the company’s longtime chief design officer, tapped Enomoto to help create the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle. Then came Roasteries in Shanghai, Milan and Tokyo. Enomoto and team worked on the New York and Chicago Roastery projects as well.

“No one knew what a Roastery was even five years ago,” Enomoto said.

“Howard [Schultz] had a vision of creating an experience where we would bring our love and passion for coffee to life. Liz Muller translated that into the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle, which would transform the world of experiential retail. Working side-by-side with Liz on these projects has been incredibly inspiring, and I think they have been very influential on the brand in a very important way. I feel very thankful and fortunate and honored being part of the effort.”

Two words could perhaps encapsulate the Chicago Roastery design: look up. The most vertical of the roasteries, Chicago was designed to draw the eye, and incoming visitors up, up, up. Starting on the sidewalk outside, Enomoto takes us into and up through the new Chicago Roastery, sharing some of her favorite design features along the way.

The building

Looking up at the building from the sidewalk outside, even from across the street on Michigan Avenue, there are little glimpses “enticing people to come in and experience what we’ve going on inside” – the light, the streaks of green, the multi-story, bronze-colored coffee cask, the hustle and bustle of Starbucks partners and customers moving through multiple levels of coffee wonderland. The building was constructed as a Crate & Barrel in 1990 by Gordon Segal, who with his wife, Carole, founded the company in 1962.

“For folks who grew up in Chicago, this building is really quite iconic,” Enomoto said. “I mean, Gordon built this building with beautiful windows and fenestration and light. The skylight he designed to bring light to the different floors, the escalators to bring customers up a multilevel flagship store – it was all pretty groundbreaking. What a fantastic opportunity for Starbucks to come into this very iconic building and put a Roastery in here.”

The multi-story coffee cask

One of the centerpieces of each Starbucks Roastery is a unique cask, the large vessel where coffee beans go to rest and de-gas following the roasting process. The Chicago roastery features a uniquely vertical space, and the design team needed to envision a cask that would literally rise to the occasion. In the center of the building’s glass “barrel” rotunda is the answer: a 56-foot steel and aluminum cask with a bronze finish, the company’s tallest. Perforations in the sculptural receptacle allow visitors to watch roasted beans moving through tubes.

“With the amount of glass and the visibility we get from the corner of Michigan and Erie looking up into the building, the cask sitting in the rotunda really becomes a beacon,” Enomoto said.

The curved escalator

Encircling the cask is the first curved escalator in the Midwest, designed to take visitors a 360-degree tour with coffee roasting, brewing and scooping on one side and a view out the curved-glass windows to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on the other. 

“Yes, I think some people will come just to ride the curved escalator,” Enomoto said, laughing. “It’s such a different thing. You kind of feel like a kid again. It's been fun watching people's faces on their way up.”

The artwork

All of the six Roasteries have their own custom artistry, and Chicago features three hand-painted murals from local artists.

Every Roastery has a unique Starbucks siren; Chicago’s, located between the third and fourth floors, was painted by local Chicago artist David Anthony Geary. “She’s floating there, weightless in the space, holding a coffee branch. In the daytime, she’s bathed by light from the skylight and she slowly transforms throughout the day,” Enomoto said.

A progressive mural by artist Eulojio Ortega, nicknamed “The Chicago Muralist,” pays tribute to the farmers and coffee-growing regions of the world. The mural begins in a staircase between the first and second floors and spans all five stories, following the journey of coffee from tree to cherry to harvest.

“We envisioned this five-story experience that would pull people from the ground floor all the way up and tell this really beautiful story about the growing of coffee,” Enomoto said. “Before you know it, you walked five floors and you’ve gotten this really amazing journey, ever upwards.”

On the fourth floor, artist Molly Z painted a mural as a visual love letter to the city of Chicago and its people, architecture, music, art, neighborhoods, lake, river – even its weather.

A literal love letter from Starbucks to Chicago sits adjacent to Molly Z’s mural. It talks about Chicago as the first city outside the Pacific Northwest that Starbucks brought its coffee to in 1987, and why it has become home to the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery.

“The reception we've had here in this city has been truly, truly fantastic,” Enomoto said. “The momentum is building and it feels good and it's really exciting and I can't wait for the doors to open.”

The sunray ceiling

All of the Roasteries have iconic ceilings designed to support both the overall design as well as seamlessly incorporate functions such as acoustics, HVAC, Wi-Fi, lighting and more.

The ceiling in Chicago, with rings of outward spiraling shades of green, was designed to symbolize rays of sun touching rolling hills of green coffee trees.  The shades of green were inspired by the agricultural nature of growing coffee.  Illuminated ‘sunbeams’ radiate outward throughout the floors.

“With the cask in the center and the way the ceiling radiates from there, it creates an almost optical illusion that the ceiling seems tilt upward as you go up each floor towards the cask,” Enomoto said. “And from the outside, you see this really great pop of color on each floor.”

Photos by Connor Surdi and Matt Glac

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‘By us and for us:’ New Starbucks merch inspired by LGBTQ+ community