May 12, 2017 Posted by

Caffe Streets and Metric Coffee: The Darko Side

“We do it because we love it. Something you love, you want to last. I just want to enjoy the process, having the best coffee we can.”

Darko Arandjelovic, Owner of Caffe Streets 

Roadblocks come in all shapes and sizes. They can be real, imagined, self-imposed, unexpected, and seemingly insurmountable. Yet every good story has a major obstacle to overcome, and that’s part of what makes the story of Caffe Streets so engaging.  When it comes to following your heart or your passion, often the challenge is not facing down roadblocks, but navigating around them. At the helm of Caffe Streets is a partner, a friend, and a co-owner of Metric Coffee, Darko Arandjelovic. 

Darko owns Caffe Streets in Chicago’s Wicker Park, and may be familiar to many who buy Metric’s coffee or spend time at Home Depot. Locals recognize Caffe Streets by the stylized street lamp hanging over the front door, the uniquely cut-out ceiling design, and by its beautiful coffee and pastry served from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.  But the story of Caffe Streets stretches back long before this wooden-dream-box of a coffee shop opened in 2011. It starts with Darko Arandjelovic drinking coffee with friends in Serbia.

“I didn’t know a lot about coffee, but I was drinking a lot of it. We had big and small talks around a cup of coffee, and that just stuck with me,” says Darko. “The energy, the social aspect.”

It was a simple enough idea, opening a shop. All it takes is redesigning and structurally converting a skin-care storefront into a fully functioning café, hiring a small staff of about seven individuals, figuring out payroll, scheduling, sales tax, zoning practices, working back of house, serving drinks front of house, going to bed at midnight and waking up at 4:30am to do the whole thing over again. Simple, right?

Thus began Caffe Streets. Six and a half years later, there has been growth and adjustments. The neighborhood and those who inhabit it circulate and change. The hours of operation, believe it or not, have shortened. Wi-fi culture has been fully embraced. Yet Darko’s original vision of the café as a social space remains strong.

“We created this little hub here. The neighborhood has changed a lot, but we haven’t changed what we’re doing since day one. We adjust things, there are always new coffees and new drinks, but basically the process and approach is the same and I’m proud of that,” says Darko.

Many people would stop there, having personally built a successful café that all started from a seed of an idea over a cup of coffee. But then entered Xavier Alexander. At the time, Xavier was working full-time as Roasting Manager at Intelligentsia, and through Caffe Streets over espresso, the two struck up a friendship. Here, another seed was planted that would eventually grow into Metric Coffee. What if this café could control for not only the consistent timeliness of the product depended on, but ensure that the quality of the coffee itself is always on point? Over Big Star tacos, the moment arrived: 

“I remember I said ‘I don’t have money,’ and he said ‘I don’t have money, either.’ We shook hands, and said ‘Okay, let’s do it,’” says Darko. “It was an idea. It’s not like we had money or connections. It was just passion behind it.”

And just like opening a café, it was super simple. They purchased a coffee roaster, enjoyed the surprise of it arriving in shambles, spent months and months in a windowless and unheated garage refurbishing it, both worked full-time and physically exhausting jobs, then they navigated the sea of zoning and licensing, moved everything to a proper facility over at 2021 W. Fulton, order green coffee, staffed up, and bingo! You have yourself a roasting works, easy as pie. 

“It’s a lifestyle, it’s not a job,” Darko says. “It’s a lot of work, but you work with people. If you work with people who use your business as a platform to do what they like, and we all share the same vision and passion, then it’s awesome,” says Darko.

And so we see the story of Metric Coffee being inescapably rooted in Caffe Streets. Rooted in honesty and partnership. Riddled with roadblocks, sure, but founded upon a simple desire to build something together, and enjoy it together. The coffee that sits on the shelves at Caffe Streets is sourced and roasted by Metric. A young man in Serbia who simply enjoyed the experience of coffee now owns and operates a café and a roasting works in Chicago. Patience, passion, and good people are the things that make dreams happen, that move us around any obstacles. Darko’s story is still being written, but it’s a pretty good one as it stands.