“Dark Matter is like a band. Each retail location like an album. And each release like a tour.”
Walking into any Dark Matter location is a completely unique coffee shop experience. Depending on the shop you visit, the walls may be covered in psychedelic graffiti art, murals, mounted swords, abstract art, or dinosaur skeletons. You very well may stand in line between a businessman in a three-piece suit and a punk-rock chick. Your barista will likely have a tattoo sleeve, a half-shaved head, or pink hair. But what makes the Dark Matter experience truly unique, is that no matter what location you go to, who you stand in line with, or who takes your order, you will be greeted with a smile, treated like family, and made to feel at home.
Having a point of difference is imperative in a crowded marketplace, and the coffee industry is certainly crowded. I don’t mean crowded like a packed rock concert, I mean like, after crude oil, coffee is the most sought after commodity in the world. Coffee is a $100 Billion industry, putting it ahead of commodities like natural gas, gold, sugar, and corn, according to Wevio. Furthermore, coffee shops are the fastest growing niche in the restaurant business. Coffee shops have a 7% annual growth rate and Starbucks is the third largest restaurant chain in the United States. Dark Matter stands out because of its unique look, but also its heavy emphasis on customer experience and employee engagement.
With hits like ‘Get the F*ck Out Of Bed’ and ‘Unicorn Blood,’ Dark Matter has set itself apart with experimental blends and a non-conformist attitude. Think, Descendents. According to Dark Matter’s ‘Minister of Propaganda,’ Kyle Hodges, Dark Matter’s recognizable packaging and psychedelic interiors speak to the organized chaos behind the brand’s success. He describes Dark Matter as the antithesis of coffee shops like Starbucks, Intelligentsia, and Blue Bottle. But Dark Matter isn’t all profane blend names and eye-catching decor.
Fueled by a sense of community and a passion for honest products, Dark Matter has aligned itself with organizations like Fair Trade Alliance, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ in order to ensure fair practices. It has also established direct partnerships with farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, allowing it to directly source beans from plant to cup. This transparency and integrity has allowed Dark Matter to maintain a high standard for quality control.
Driven by innovation, skill, social responsibility, and philosophy, Dark Matter sees itself as the “gravitational resistance in a world driven by technology and science.” In such a crowded industry, Kyle explained that this view allows Dark Matter to stand alone without worrying about the competition. Unique branding coupled with fair practices and high quality, allows employees to completely stand behind the product they’re selling.
Engaged employees offer the best service to customers, and Kyle emphasizes the importance of service to Dark Matter. Employees can be confident they are selling a high-quality product and representing a brand built on transparency and fairness. This allows them to focus solely on courtesy and respect for all customers. Kyle explained that the clientele at Dark Matter varies greatly, but no matter who walks in, they are there for the same reason, and that is to purchase great coffee. Therefore, everyone that enters Dark Matter should be treated equally and respectfully.
In such a competitive market, loyalty is very important and bad customer service will drive people away immediately. Charlie Fritschner, Producer of the Brand Lab Series™, is a huge fan of Dark Matter. He says, “I like going to Dark Matter because the environment and the people are all very cool and different. It’s an atypical coffee shop and I appreciate that about it.”
In tune with their commitments to social responsibility and community, Dark Matter has been friends and collaborators with Hope For The Day for almost five years. Hope For the Day works to raise the visibility of resources and information for those suffering with mental illness to prevent suicide. Together, they created Sip of Hope, the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of the proceeds support proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. This collaboration is especially relevant this month, as September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.
This fall, Dark Matter is taking some of their closest friends, exceptional partners, and Chicago culture to Tokyo to present some of their rarest coffees at Craftheads in Shibuya and Mikkeller Beer Celebration Tokyo. The coffee pop-up at Craftheads will feature their farming partners at Finca San Jeronimo Miramar (Guatemala) espresso bar, a special beer and coffee collaboration with Shiga Kogen Brewery and Truck Coffee of Japan, and Martin Atkins’ presentation on his new book Memories: My Time In and Out of Public Image Ltd. (1979-1985). Tokyo also marks the third city (Copenhagen, Boston, and now Tokyo) in which Dark Matter has teamed up with the Danish beer nerds Mikkeller. Their beer celebration events are legendary and Dark Matter will be leaving their own Chicago mark on the beer geeks of Japan.
Though the brand comes off as rebellious and irreverent, Dark Matter is bringing a new definition to the importance of customer experience and employee engagement. Its ability to stand alone in a crowded marketplace, backed by dedicated and loyal employees, is indicative of a long and positive future ahead for the brand. Think, the Rolling Stones.