Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Uncommonness of Uncommon Ground

Most Loyola students have heard of Uncommon Ground, whether it be from free samples at the UNIV 101 restaurant crawl or from strolling by on their walk down Devon. Even of those who have eaten there, many don’t realize how innovative this restaurant in our own backyard is. Frequently assumed to be just another farm-to-table meal with prices a little outside of the average college budget, Uncommon Ground boasts a creative menu (ever heard of ham and cheese French toast or a beermosa?) and sustainable practices that are unmatched by other restaurants.

The highlight of Uncommon Ground’s sustainability is its entirely organic rooftop farm, the first of its kind in the U.S. It grows vegetables, beans, herbs, and flowers in the 2500 square foot space, plus keep four beehives to help pollinate the plants and support the city’s bee population. The restaurant uses rooftop-farmed ingredients in its dishes whenever possible, and opts for local, organic family farmers for the rest of their ingredients. The Lakeview location also features an organic brewery, another unique creation. While these may not seem incredibly impressive, keep in mind that Helen and Michael opened Uncommon Ground in 1991, long before the clean-food movement was underway. Uncommon Ground was named the Greenest Restaurant in America in 2011, showing that the two were and still are pioneers of the farm-to-table movement, especially in Chicago.

Helen and Michael say they really were uncommon when they opened their first restaurant, going well out of their way to find local and organic produce to use- this was nearly unheard of at the time. Each of them quit their own jobs in the food industry to pursue the project, which started off as a tiny coffee house. The couple knew they wanted to create a movement, and have certainly succeeded. They remain very involved with Chicago urban agriculture and train interns every year to continue growing the movement. The two are also involved in the local art scene, featuring live music and local exhibitions in their restaurants.

The fact that Helen and Michael worked together closely to get Uncommon Ground going had me thinking about collaboration. This seems to be a good example of medium-Q collaboration and its success. As a husband and wife, Helen and Michael are obviously closely linked and work together on most endeavors, but they bring lots of other people from a variety of backgrounds onto the team to keep ideas flowing. For example, they have team members who specialize in the farming, brewery, and culinary aspects of the business, indicating an “intermediate amount of connectivity and cohesion.” (Uzzi and Spiro 2005). Uncommon Ground’s success may be partially to thank for this network of people from different fields, some who come and go, all working towards the same goal.

Uncommon Ground is a must-visit next time you’re craving a meal out. Supporting such a sustainable and socially active local business is definitely in line with Loyola’s values!


  1. As a frequent Uncommon Ground customer, I am always delighted to hear that other people have heard of this fantastic restaurant. I did not know how far back their project went though. That is so incredible that they basically brought farm-to-table movement to life in Chicago. In my opinion, it is important to focus on environmentally sound practices in urban cities, especially in the restaurant businesses. With the amount of fuel wasted on transporting produce and the toll that off-season farming takes on our environment is incredible. Uncommon Ground's devotion to making menus that coincide with seasonal fruits and vegetables also add to your argument. I also found it interesting that you brought up the aspect of "medium Q" when discussing the collaboration that went into creating Uncommon Ground. Do you think that intrinsic motivation played a role in this creative product? Since they both quit their jobs to pursue this, it makes me wonder how much of their motivation was intrinsic, rather than extrinsic.

  2. I really love Uncommon Ground, and I only recently looked up the restaurant's story. I agree with the comment above that sustainable and environmentally friendly practices are incredibly important especially in large urban centers, and especially in a time in which many seek out fast-food or chains that care less about the quality of the food. The corporation and collaboration with local farmers and businesses is so vital, especially because this means that resources and money stays in the area.
    To answer the question about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, the way that I understand it is that intrinsic motivation has more to do with the product, and extrinsic motivation has more to do with an outside goal like success. This would mean that this restaurant is the product of intrinsic motivation.
    I wonder, however, how much of an impact a restaurant like Uncommon Ground could make on the larger community of Chicago?

  3. I love Uncommon Ground! But if you visit the restaurant, you become almost immediately aware of the high prices. I am curious what one can do to make sustainable, home-grown food available in at a lower cost for less-wealthy neighborhoods. Could a model like this be a solution in food deserts?

    I am a huge proponent of eating locally and organically, but grocery stores like Whole Foods and the like are simply not affordable for many. I see this as a public health concern--how can we justify only allowing those with disposable income access to healthy, pesticide-free food?

    All in all, I love what Uncommon Ground is doing, and I am curious what future models will look like!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.