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!