#Coffeehouse comeback in Chenoa, ILL

Coffee house comeback

Luke Smucker

Business owner Eric Phillips wipes down the counter in his newly renovated coffee house. He hopes to have a new coffee shop open in Chenoa by the end of the month.

Chenoa, Ill. —

At a time when small businesses are struggling and large corporations are taking their business out of the state, a local entrepreneur is willing to break the cycle. The building that used to be Mini Marie’s located at 226 N. Green St. in Chenoa will soon be returning to its roots as building owner Eric Phillips transforms the vacant building into the coffee shop the town of Chenoa desires.

“I started renovating the place and getting an idea of what I wanted to put in here,” said Phillips. “ I had a chalk board for people to give me ideas of what they would like to see here and they wanted a coffee shop.”

Phillips, a 39-year-old Flanagan resident, grew up going to Pontiac Township High School and graduated in 1991. He left the area for 15 years, joined the U.S. Navy, came back to help his mother and decided that of all the places to live, this area is where he wanted to be.

“I’ve been out to the coasts, but I love the warm community setting that the Midwest has to offer,” said Phillips.

With 10 years of business experience under his belt, Phillips said he knows how a lot of processes work and has a wonderful mentor for the restaurant-end of the business as well.

“My family and friends have been very supportive,” said Phillips. “I couldn’t do this without any of them, they are an intricate part in my business. This is all about business relationships, friendly relationships and networking.”

As the only coffee shop in Chenoa, Phillips said he hopes to bring the culture of the community into a centralized location. In order to do this, he wants to provide the farmers with a place to hang out in the morning, host a local artist wall where people can sell their art, and host a weekly open mike night.  He plans to have wireless Internet in the building as well, so people can come in and do their work.

“I want to make this a community center first and a coffee shop second,” said Phillips. “People will be able to socialize and express themselves. I want this place to be as important to the farmers as it is to the kids who come to do some homework in the afternoons. People will be free to study and socialize at their leisure.”

On the menu, Phillips said he plans to not only cater to the decaf market, but also to make other coffee staples such as cappuccinos, espressos, mochas and a variety of different coffees and creamers. For food, Philips plans to offer baked goods like brownies, cookies and cakes. He is also talking about making use of the fully equipped kitchen in the building next door and delivering pizza.

“People have told me they want a good pizza place,” said Phillips. “They used to have a place down at the end of the street where you could enjoy eat-in pizza. I fully intend to do pizza delivery. I think that there are enough people in the area that I could employ some local kids to sell some pizzas. I would provide more jobs for the community and a good pie at the same time.”

When asked why he sees the current state of the economy as a good time to open up so many different shops, Phillips simply shrugged and said he believes in order to succeed, you must be able to see what no one else sees.

“Following along with any American dream, I think now is the perfect time to open a small business or two,” said Phillips. “I need to revitalize and get jobs back into the community because that’s where my heart is. I don’t see these ideas as a risk at all. I seem them as a positive thing that people in the community have seen starting to take shape already.”

Once he gets settled with the coffee house, Phillips said there are other commercial buildings he would like to look into because they are trying to get back into business after having been recently shut down.

“A lot of them shut down because the people retire and they don’t have anybody to turn the business over to,” said Phillips. “However, when these businesses leave small communities, people miss them and they are forced to travel 10 to15 miles to get those same services. If you bring that back into the community, it doesn’t have to make millions in profit, it just has to serve the community. That’s what it’s really all about.”

At the present time, Phillips believes the coffee house is still a month away from being at a place where he can feel comfortable opening. He is renovating the inside and said the people who have seen the changes he is making love the new color scheme and atmosphere.

“They are excited to see it back open,” said Phillips. “I really hope this place will be a draw to the community. I just want to do my part to help to revitalize the area.”

For anyone interested in more information or getting in contact with Phillips, he said he could be reached at 1077llc@gmail.com.