If You Haven’t Heard of Pilcrow Coffee Yet, You’re About To

You might not have heard of Pilcrow, the award-winning coffee roaster. But that’s about to change.

The offerings at Interval include (clockwise from far left) The Americano cocktail with
coffee-infused Campari, iced latte and espresso.
These are percolating days for coffee bean man Ryan Hoban, who entered the highly competitive and caffeinated Milwaukee market in early 2017 with his Pilcrow roastery and wholesale facility on Martin Luther King Drive. Introducing MKE to the niche trend of cold-brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas – strong and creamy with a foamy, beer-like head – made Hoban stand out.

He won America’s Best Cold Brew Competition in March 2017 and turned his small, limited-hours tasting bar into a space for local food entrepreneurs to showcase their products, including hand pies and breakfast sandwiches. But the Bronzeville digs where the Oconomowoc native planned to grow his wholesale business was just the start. In fall 2018, Hoban took over the old Pleasant Kafe, kitty-corner from Sanford, and opened Interval, a café by day and experimental restaurant by night. 

Almost a year later, Interval dropped the structured higher-end evening dining to evolve the brand in a different way, bringing in other chefs to create “food experiences” on select nights and scaling back to a cocktail bar serving a few simple, shareable plates. As for pop-ups, Hoban is gauging interest and setting up nights such as the tasting menu partnership of two former Ardent chefs: Paris Dreibelbis (now of Bacchus) and Jackie Woods (who launched Donut Monster).

And there’s soon to be more Pilcrow in Milwaukee. Along with providing the caffeinated component for The Pharmacy bar at Crossroads Collective, Pilcrow has a Downtown café in the works at 1020 N. Broadway, and the roastery/tasting bar is moving to a larger facility at 416 W. Walnut St. next spring.

“The funny thing about Pilcrow: We’re just a really small team. The perception is that we’re bigger than we are,” says Hoban. Small, but poised to make a big imprint.

Coffee Trend

Quell your “well, duh” reaction.

Coffee goes exceptionally well in cocktails, and you are likely to see more kinds of joe, especially cold brew, infused into everything from old fashioneds to distinctly original liquid creations. Look for them at cocktail bars like Jazz Estate, The Bar at the Saint Kate Hotel and Lost Whale.

Ryan Hoban on Brand Building and Growth

What’s your vision for Interval?

RH: What I planned all along is a coffeehouse with a pop-up culture at night where we curate different chef experiences. We’ve got limited space and don’t have a full kitchen, so I think this is the way to provide new experiences.

What’s one of the things you learned running Pilcrow?

Originally I thought, “Who am I to open a café in the shadows of these other roasters?” But then I learned that opening a brick-and-mortar café to start with would have been helpful to grow a brand. At the same time, we timed the opening of our tasting bar perfectly. I saw this nitro thing happening in Chicago [when Hoban worked at Wicker Park’s Ipsento Coffee] and said, “I gotta get back home and do this!”

You’ve picked some interesting one-word names for your businesses. Explain your inspiration.

A pilcrow is the invisible paragraph symbol, the thing you don’t see. But it’s essential to the storytelling process. That’s what we want to be – part of the process of telling the story of coffee. Interval plays off the different programs we do, morning and night. It allows us to evolve.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue. 

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.