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Graham Thompson; Photography by Jeff Sciortino

Made in Chicago

by Matt Lee, Lisa Shames and Margaret Sutherlin | Men's Book Chicago magazine | March 15, 2012

We won’t pretend to know exactly what drives the following Chicagoans’ passion for making such high-quality products. All we know is that each is at the pinnacle of his profession, has an awesome commitment to excellence, and that we’re damn proud to call them our own. Now that’s the Chicago way.

Hat Trick
Graham Thompson is never happier than when a customer returns to his shop in need of a hat cleaning. Then he knows the custom-made fedora, pork pie, trilby or any other of his gorgeous Optimo hat styles on offer is getting its proper due. Now “serious hat-wearers”—prices start at $400—can get their fix at Optimo’s second location in the Loop. While Thompson’s first shop in Beverly has been going strong for 16 years, outfitting old-school hat wearers, first-timers and cast members of films like J. Edgar and Public Enemies (Johnny Depp is a regular customer), Thompson was on the lookout for another location for more than a year. The wait has been worth it: From its location inside the historic Monadnock Building to the wall of vintage wooden hat molds to the poured cement countertop, the store is a perfect ode to the craft Thompson has worked so hard to resurrect. Like the hats, the space is built to last. “We plan on being here a long time,” he says. 320 S. Dearborn St., 312.922.2999,

Spin City
“I go seven miles out of my way to get my bread from a guy in Logan Square,” says Michael Catano. And that sums up what his custom bike company, Humble Frameworks, is all about: The inimitable connection a buyer has with a product when he knows who made it and the care that went into it. “I don’t compete just on performance,” says Catano. “Stock frames work for most people. What I do is tied into the idea of a hyper-local, sustainable economy.” Clients of the year-old business include others, like chef Paul Kahan, who share Catano’s passion for extremely high quality, local products. “I’m not an artist,” says Catano. “I make vehicles. I love clean, fast bikes.”

Apple of His Eye
Even before Greg Hall poured his first glass of Virtue hard cider, it received a nod in Esquire’s “Things We’re Looking Forward To” feature. That’s little surprise, since, as Goose Island’s brewmaster for 20 years, Hall was the leader of the local craft beer movement. After the company his father started in 1988 was bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev last March, Hall was ready to try something new and Virtue, his Roscoe Village-based hard cider company, was born. Beyond his love for the complexity of craft cider, Hall appreciates the fact that the operation allows him to support local farms. “Seeing an apple orchard plowed over breaks my heart,” he says. “If I can keep these guys farming, that’s a win for everybody.”

Bean Town
When Doug Zell launched Intelligentsia coffee in Chicago in 1995 he had a philosophy firmly in place. “We wanted customers to see coffee as a culinary beverage, like great wine or Champagne,” says Zell. “Brewing it cup by cup is fussier, but that’s the way to tell the coffee’s story.” The commitment paid off. Intelligentsia now has locations across the country, sources from growers in 21 countries, roasts its own beans at its Fulton Market facility and is setting the standard with direct trade. “Chicago is a little conservative in trying new things,” says Zell. “But it’s fiercely loyal once it finds something it likes.”

Bag Men
When the Lafferty brothers couldn’t find the right men’s bag for their busy days, they resolved to make it themselves. “We needed a bag that could handle the necessities of a commute but is also appropriate for the boardroom,” says Chicagoan Matt Lafferty, who, with brothers Adam and Peter, launched luxury men’s bag company Libero Ferrero last year. Made in America with Chicago’s Horween leather, the current line of four ruggedly elegant bags features spare-no-expense design touches such as Holland & Sherry wool linings. “Our competitor is men’s perception of their bag,” says Lafferty. “We’re looking to elevate the bag.”