“The hospitality scene in Chicago is intense and competitive, so that gives a progressive shop like Sawada the chance to exist and fill a niche that no one knew they wanted.”
In a few words, describe yourself and your practice.
I’m a general manager of Sawada Coffee and CC Ferns. I'd describe myself as someone who loves order, has a great sense of humor and makes a great cup of coffee. Sawada is a coffeeshop in Chicago that is unlike any other. It definitely challenges and expands what a coffeeshop can be.
How does where you live affect your work?
I think living in Chicago makes a shop like this possible. As everyone knows, the hospitality scene in Chicago is intense and competitive, so that gives a progressive shop like Sawada the chance to exist and fill a niche that no one knew they wanted.
Is your practice how you support yourself?
Yes, managing the shops are my sole source of income.
WHAT IS THE MOST USEFUL TIP OR ADVICE YOU'VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It shows self-awareness and knowing your limits. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s so simple, but I still have trouble following this advice.
When did you start your practice?
We opened in December of 2015. We just turned 1 year old!
Our coffee program has developed over several years, after a research trip by Brendan Sodikoff, the founder and CEO of Hogsalt Hospitality, and a development team. They by chance happened to go to one of Hiroshi Sawada’s shops in Japan and were so impressed, they invited him to come train a few of us on latte art. I learned directly from Hiroshi. After helping train others for our restaurants, I helped open CC Ferns, our first true coffeeshop. After that, we opened Sawada. Sawada Coffee is the culmination of this partnership with Hiroshi and development of our style of coffee. I guess you could say I’ve been on the front lines of opening and bringing our coffeeshops to life.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
Most likely I’d be barbering.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE ASPIRING TO DO WHAT YOU DO?
Don’t get discouraged or give up. Learning how to do latte art can take months, and is just like the saying “two steps forward, one step back”.
How do you start your process?
Getting my espresso ready is the first step. Even though it is the last step in creating the drink, it must be the first ingredient to be prepared.
What are some challenges you're facing in your practice?
Speed and consistency. We have such high volume that it takes focus to make sure every drink is made perfectly every time. Taking extra time to remake a drink that doesn’t look great can set everything back.
How would your audience describe you?
Handsome. I’m only kidding. I think to my regulars and my coworkers, I’m the guy who’s dependable and consistent.
WHAT MAKES YOUR WORK UNIQUE?
I humbly say that I think what makes my work unique is me. I’m definitely one-of-a-kind and I think my skill and personality in unison make my work unique. Baristas are all over the world, and so is pretty latte art. But Sawada and me are only in Chicago.
Who (or what) inspires you?
I’m inspired by teammates. The shop couldn’t be what it is without a great staff, and they constantly impress me with how invested they are. I’m also inspired by Brendan Sodikoff (the CEO and founder of Hogsalt Hospitality, our parent hospitality group). I’ve worked with him for over 4 years, and to see the company grow in that time, the evolution of our coffee program as well, is something that’s been really cool to be a part of. It’s really something to be able to help make someone’s vision a reality.
How has your practice changed over time? Where do you see it going?
The cool thing about latte art is that it is unique to each person. I can recognize mine in a photo. I think over time I’ve developed my own look and style. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my skill in other locations that we open, just like Hiroshi Sawada did for me.
Are you comfortable sharing all aspects of your process? If not, why?
Absolutely. I have been told always make yourself replaceable, so having many people in the shop who can do what I do makes the guest experience seamless and consistent, the foundation of hospitality. It reminds me of my sobriety: if I share my experience and strength, I can hope that others can be great, no matter where they are.
What are you currently working on?
We just launched a one-year anniversary drink for Sawada called the Black Camo Latte. Beyond that, we are continuing work on expanding the Sawada brand, in retail form and in other markets.