Why hipsters love this bike (and coffee) shop

By STEVE HENDERSHOT
December 04, 2014

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

Photo by Kendall Karmanian Michael Salvatore at his Heritage Bicycles

Photo by Kendall Karmanian Michael Salvatore at his Heritage Bicycles

Most $800 bicycles tout features such as a carbon fork and high-end components. At Heritage Bicycles, the $800 base-model, single-speed bike doesn’t even come with handbrakes—yet they are rolling out the door so fast that the almost three-year-old bike-and-coffee shop in Lakeview will generate more than $1 million in sales this year.

With results like that, owner Michael Salvatore clearly has tapped into a hipster aesthetic that’s reflected in his bikes’ vintage design as well as their made-in-Chicago craftsmanship. Need more proof? His customer list includes pop diva Beyonce and Silicon Valley celebrity Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter and online payments outfit Square. Dorsey says his bike is “a joy to look at but even more fun to ride.”

But wait, there’s more. Heritage is miles from Chicago’s hipster havens. Salvatore says he chose Lakeview, instead of Logan Square or Pilsen, because his customizable bikes are expensive—the average sale is about $1,200 after adding options such as a second gear ($125) and, yes, handbrakes ($125). “We’re in a neighborhood where there’s disposable income and people who appreciate what we do.” Still, 20- and 30-somethings flock to hang out in his coffee shop.

When Salvatore, 33, opened Heritage in early 2012, coffee generated 70 percent of revenue. That figure has dropped to 35 percent, but the coffee shop still draws year-round traffic and is so popular that he is opening three coffee-only outposts, one in Fulton Market and two in Uptown—the first of which opens this month.

Salvatore lives above his store with his wife, Melissa, a photographer, and their son. Melissa Salvatore runs her photography studio out of Heritage Littles, a kid-themed version of Heritage a few blocks south of the bike shop.

The co-entrepreneurial ventures represent a family reinvention: Michael Salvatore spent part of his 20s as an options trader in Chicago before leaving in 2009 to build bikes for Bowery Lane Bicycles in New York. The family moved back to Chicago in 2011 to start Heritage, which has 23 employees.

Salvatore, who has a 2003 bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Arizona, knows more than what excites his own generation. He anticipated that millennial shopping habits would go mainstream and that, as he puts its, “more people would begin to want something authentic, something made locally, and appreciate the story of a mom-and-pop shop.”

Chicago’s On the Route Bicycles has a shop a few blocks away. Co-owner Joanne McSweeney says of her competitor, Heritage “is selling pretty, handcrafted bikes to a high-end clientele that is learning to value bicycles differently.”

Salvatore, meanwhile, is watching his business boom—2014 sales increased 65 percent from last year. He’s opening a shop in Nashville, Tenn., in 2015, one of several “cool, artisan, mid-sized cities” where he imagines Heritage could take root because “it keeps our authenticity and allows us to grow maturely, without the stigma of selling out.”