Some will say the key to running a successful business is consistency. Others might suggest financial management. For the team behind Sweetbean Cafe & Bakery, it’s a quality product and a smile.
It’s early morning and you’re groggy. In one hand you hold a cup, which you tilt back. A pleasant and delicious sensation hits you as caffeine glides over your taste buds. In your other hand, the glaze from a fresh, golden brown cinnamon roll glistens like a sequined dress.
For many around Byron, Ill., this is an everyday routine at Sweetbean Cafe & Bakery, 114 S. Franklin St. The quaint establishment serves up warm drinks and a lineup of dishes that power up the morning.
Inside the small, reddish-brick cafe, black tables with wooden chairs sit atop hardwood floors. A stone fireplace gives off heat and a homey feeling. Behind the counter, a team of family and friends await, smiling.
“We want to provide a quality product for people and give them a place that is nice, warm, hospitable and fun,” says owner Mindy Hellyer, whom you’ll often spy behind the counter. “We love people. We love our customers, and I think that sets us apart.”
Sweetbean’s menu boasts a variety of handmade drinks – not least of which are the house drip brew blend, cold brews, and hot and iced chai tea lattes. Visitors are also drawn to the hot or iced espressos, frappes and 100% fruit smoothies made with green coffee extract and all-natural sweeteners.
Mornings bring freshly made breakfast items like the bagel melt sandwich, served with a toasted bagel, cream cheese, egg, tomato, bacon and cheddar. Gluten-free eaters flock to the SB Breakfast Bowl, which features sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and shredded cheddar cheese.
No matter what you choose, it’s all made from scratch and prepared with healthy choices in mind.
“We make everything here; we don’t just warm it up,” Hellyer says. “With our sweet potato bowl, we oven roast our sweet potatoes in olive oil to get away from things like processed oils.”
As the morning wears on, breakfast items give way to lunch dishes like the chicken ciabatta sandwich or the turkey bacon avocado wrap. In the winter, homemade soups like minestrone and broccoli cheese take center stage with cold brews such as strawberry cheesecake and toasted coconut.
A former Colorado preschool teacher, Hellyer moved to Davis Junction, Ill., in 2010 and started making custom cakes from her home. Demand grew rapidly, and she quickly realized an opportunity.
She opened a storefront in 2016 along Illinois Route 2, and with the help of her daughter Jesse, Hellyer built a clientele until they’d outgrown the space. In July 2020, they moved to their current location – right next door.
“All of our fridges have wheels, so we literally rolled them out the door and over to the next building,” she says.
Hellyer’s other daughters, Sam and Bri, joined the team that same year and now work alongside their mother. Sam works as manager of the cafe while Bri handles product inventory and social media. Hellyer’s husband, Bill, and her mother, Jean, also lend a hand whenever they can.
Word continues to spread, so much so that Ogle County’s local newspapers have named Sweetbean Cafe & Bakery as the top coffee shop and bakery for the past three years.
But the recognition isn’t what keeps Hellyer motivated. It’s about being conscientious and serving a greater need.
“I didn’t want to be known,” Hellyer says. “I just wanted to have a humble, low-key opening. But I almost feel like people depend on us now. It’s a lot of work, but we’re happy here.”
Sweetbean Cafe & Bakery is open Monday 7-11 a.m. and Tuesday through Saturday to 2 p.m.