Sweetbean Café & Bakery in Byron, Illinois is one of those places that makes me appreciate getting to travel in northwestern Illinois. I get to write about places I’ve never been to and meet amazing business owners that are passionate about what they do.
Baked goods a'plenty
The Bakery itself is adorable with tons of room for gathering and an amazing bakery case FILLED with some of the best baked goods you’ve ever seen. There's even a corner full of coffee merchandise and comfy Sweetbean pullovers and t-shirts.
I was immediately greeted when I walked in the door. It was impossible to choose from the baked goods in the glass case. There were so many wonderful goodies available. A chalkboard coffee menu on the wall shows a variety of different coffee and food options and the baristas were happy to help me decide on some popular items.
More than drinks & buns
Sweetbean Café & Bakery has been open for two years and is known for more than coffee and delicious baked goods. They serve only the freshest food, which is made right in the shop using minimally processed ingredients from the best sources available. They serve breakfast and lunch and have a variety of menu items such as breakfast bowls or wraps, tuna, and chicken salad croissants, and of course – a bakery case full of baked goods that you are never “too full” for.
It's all in a name...
When asked about the name, the owner, Mindy Hellyer, joked that she named the bakery after her husband who is super sweet and full of beans. However, the name stuck when they combined certain elements of the business. Those elements consist of high-quality coffee beans, baked goods, and the café. They even offer gluten and dairy free options and make their own salad dressings. A lot of home recipes were brought in from her childhood. Everything is made from scratch.
A passion for baking - a family affair
Baking has been a passion of Mindy's her whole life. She has always loved to entertain and bake for people. Before Sweetbean was a brick and mortar location, she was baking cakes and goodies out of her home. This became more popular than she ever expected--baking up to 6 cakes per weekend. So when the building came up for sale, she took the opportunity and turned it into a family business. Both of her daughters manage the front-end of Sweetbean and her mother helps out too.
When I asked Mindy what her favorite part of owning Sweetbean is – she smiled and said it was the people. When she opened Sweetbean she wanted to provide a nice, warm, comfortable place for people to gather. She thinks that treating people right is one of the most important parts of owning a business. Her customers have become like family and she wants everyone to have the best experience possible.
I know that I already can't wait to go back!
Sweetbean Bakery and Cafe
404 W Blackhawk Dr.
Byron, Illinois 61010
Hairy Cow Brewing Company is the first brewpub in Ogle County
Located in Byron, Illinois on the banks of the beautiful Rock River.
I walked in and was immediately impressed by the stunning ambiance of the building--high ceilings with tons of natural light beaming inside, a beautiful view of the Rock River, and a stunning rock-faced taproom fireplace. It's topped off, of course, with photos of Scottish Highland “Hairy” cows, where the name “Hairy Cow Brewing Company” originated from. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the owners and the brewmaster to learn about the history of this new brewery.
The idea started from a passion of breweries and brewing their own beer. They loved the culture and the community and wanted to fill a void that Ogle County was missing. The idea started in 2016. It started off with monthly beer tastings and attending several beer tastings at festivals and events in order to generate name recognition and promote the upcoming opening of the brewery. They also created a Kickstarter campaign to get the financial ball rolling. They raised 30k in 30 days! Supporters included friends, craft beer lovers, and a lot of community support. In doing so, they already had a following of craft beer lovers, resulting in being very busy since officially opening the doors in 2018.
It's a brewery -- not a bar
Hairy Cow is Veteran owned and Military and Law Enforcement friendly – even proudly displaying a blue line on one of their high-top bars. They pride themselves in being a brewery, not a bar. All beers are made in-house and feature 10 taps. Currently, Hairy Cow is doing four to five Guest Beers and five of their own. They strive to make a balanced beer with nothing too outside of the box. Some of the selection includes options such as Coconut Porter, IPAS, and a Turtle Tree Cream Ale.
Brick-oven style pizza - 18 options!
In addition to amazing beer, Hairy Cow also features brick-oven style pizzas that are made fresh to order in less than 10 minutes and are DELICIOUS. The dough is made fresh daily, in-house, using the finest flour, yeast, water, and Hairy Cow beer. It's aged for at least 24 hours. Ingredients are always fresh, without any artificial flavors, colors, or fillers. The menu has 18 pizza options (yes you read that right, 18!)
Everything from classic cheese, Margherita, veggie, buffalo chicken, and even all-day breakfast pizza. They even offer gluten friendly dough. In addition, they have salad options, appetizers such as German-style pretzels, deep-fried mushrooms, and wings. To end your meal, Hairy Cow offers locally made cheesecake for desert. They have over twenty recipes on a rotating basis and the menu states that it might, quite possibly, be the best cheesecake you’ve ever had.
Integral Part of the Community
Hairy Cow strives to be an integral part of the community. It’s a gathering place where folks can meet with friends, family, and business associates to enjoy craft beer and pizza from the patio overlooking the riverfront or while seated around the taproom fireplace. This is a place where you can dock your boat and enjoy time around the outdoor firepit while taking in the Rock River view.
Hairy Cow has plans for this Spring and Summer
Hairy Cow has some big plans. A beer garden and public boat docks are planned for this Spring and Summer. Stay tuned for upcoming music and seasonal events and festivals.
Make the trip to Byron, Illinois and visit Hairy Cow Brewing Company.
Hairy Cow Brewing Company
450 E. Blackhawk Dr
Byron, Illinois 61010
Jessi Marshall is all about creating experiences.
Jessi Marshall, born and raised in Dixon, Illinois, has traveled domestically and internationally for her career in the hair world. Her family once owned their own business in Dixon for 82 years and she knew that she would follow in those entrepreneurial footsteps. Jessi wanted to return home and fill the void of health-conscious food options in Dixon. That business, Curate Kitchen Dixon, supports and enhances the community.
An old laundromat situated on a corner lot on Dixon's downtown riverfront came up for sale and she had the perfect vision. What started out as an idea for a 20-person café turned into a 99-person restaurant with a drive-thru, full menu, event space, and riverfront patio.
When I asked Jessi where the name “curate” originated from, she explained that it was about “bringing unique and different things together to create a holistic collection.” The table and chairs don’t match – but everything seems to fit together.
A taste for travel with locally sourced bakery items
Jessi brought a taste of her own travels to the menu with options such as prosciutto and brie sandwiches, sweet potato and chickpea salad, breakfast quiches, a full coffee bar, and bakery items that are sourced locally from “The Village Bakery” in Oregon, IL. All of the coffee grounds are from Intelligence Coffee - a family owned business based out of Illinois who use a reverse roasting process to make the coffee smooth and not bitter.
Curate is all about mindful eating with menu options that are not only good to eat but also good for you. In fact, 70% of the menu is gluten-free and vegan with a small item change. All foods are prepared with as many fresh, non-processed ingredients as possible.
More changes coming
They plan on adding online ordering this Spring as well as opening up their patio for dinner appetizers. Currently, they are open as a breakfast and lunch establishment. They will also start renting out a separate room of the building for events, meetings, etc. The drive-thru offers a full coffee bar as well as quick to-go options such as turkey rollups, veggie wraps, and their popular broccoli apple salad.
Monday – Friday: 6:00am – 3:00pm
Saturday & Sunday: 7:00am – 2:00pm
120 W River Street
Dixon, IL 61021
Let's get lost in the woods
It’s no surprise that when Illinoisans or Iowans want to escape the city or just get lost in the woods, they head to Mississippi Palisades State Park. Just shy of thirty minutes from Galena and three hours west of Chicago, you’ll find a breathtaking state park that has some of the most gorgeous rock formations in the Midwest. This treasure of northwestern Illinois is located three miles north of the vibrant little river town, Savanna. Palisades State Park is old as the hills but as serene as it gets. Gorgeous winding and steep drives take you to incredible overlooking views of the Mississippi River and Iowa. The 2,500-acre State Park is rich in American Indian history and is the perfect place for a day-trip or weekend getaway.
Park Highlights: Mississippi Palisades State Park is located on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway which follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles--from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The scenic route passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns and is arguably the longest and most important scenic byway in America.
Rich in history
Before we dive into all of the must-dos in the park, here’s a little history. The word “Palisades” is used to describe a line of high, steep cliffs commonly seen along a river. The Native American pathfinders did as present-day hikers do – in coursing the bluffs, they took the paths of least resistance. You can literally trace the footsteps of all those who came before you, some of whom came this way nearly a thousand years ago.
The historic Twin Sisters, a pair of humanoid figures on the bluff tops, offer spectacular views of the Mississippi River. If you don’t feel like hiking to earn your view, there are plenty of overlooks with nearby parking so you can take the drive and easily picnic or take in the views without the work. Some of the overlooks are also handicapped accessible.
The state park is a great place to go hiking for the day or to camp out and spend an entire weekend. The park offers 13 miles of hiking trails that range from moderate to rugged and is one of the only places in northwestern Illinois that allows rock climbing. The limestone bluffs rise roughly 180 feet above the river level in some places though none of the climbs are that high.
Bring the dog
Mississippi Palisades is a popular place for campers and motorhomes and is also dog-friendly. Along with offering an impressive 241 campsites with Class A and B suites in both shaded and open areas, electrical hookups are available and showers and toilets are available from May – October. Travelers and locals flock to the state park each season to experience nature at it's best. Brilliant hues splash the cliffs with color each fall and each spring and summer the valleys and slopes are in full bloom. In addition, the park is full of wildlife and offers prime bird watching. Many species of birds, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and eagles make their home in the park.
Enjoy hiking more than 15 miles of trails and five breathtaking scenic overlooks at Mississippi Palisades State Park. So whether you are just taking a drive to take in the views or seeking adventure and want to climb the historic limestone bluffs, be sure to add Mississippi Palisades State Park to your itinerary.
Start planning your trip
16327A IL Rte. 84
Savanna IL 61074
It would be impossible to exaggerate when I say the Lincoln Way Inn Bed & Breakfast is absolutely STUNNING. This historic property has been completely restored and brought back to life with upscale, luxury accommodations that include organic bedding and linens, locally sourced all-natural farm to table home-cooked breakfasts, cedar sauna, hand-tiled marble bathrooms, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, and much more. The owners remain steadfast in their efforts to be good stewards of history, guest comfort and the treasured flora and fauna of the region.
What's old is new again
The Lincoln Way Inn is one of those properties you can’t drive past without slowing down to admire. The restoration of this 1912 home is stunning inside and out. The Inn found new life when Lisa and John Ayres of Chicago bought the property with plans to turn the 104-year-old property into a luxury bed and breakfast. The renovation of the three-story, 7,200-square-foot house took about a year and a half to complete. All contractors on the project were local. The paint came from the Sherwin Williams store in Dixon. Happily, the Inn ended up being featured as the cover story on the national Sherwin Williams industry magazine, Professional Painting Contractor.
The Lincoln Way Inn has also been designated as one of the properties on the "Select Registry" which is a diverse group of independent properties that deliver a high level of personalized hospitality--unheard of at large chains--and offer a quality experience that only a select few can attain.
Lisa and her husband bought a 110-acre property that didn’t have an address and came out every weekend for four years. Lisa, who has a background in non-profit work and is passionate about preservation, had driven past the home hundreds of times and it had been for sale the entire time. One day while driving past the property she had an epiphany and knew what she was meant to do. She called the realtor, walked through the house and could see a future for this property – serving farm to table breakfasts, hosting weddings, yoga retreats, and helping people unplug from a busy life.
I stayed in the beautiful Sandburg Suite, which is named for Carl Sandburg, an Illinois author and winner of three Pulitzer Prizes in writing and poetry about Abraham Lincoln. The suite features its own fireplace and spa bathroom with a claw-foot tub and rain shower. Upon arrival, I was greeted with fresh flowers, organic robes, slippers and linens, and all natural “BeeKind” products that are homemade by Lisa using their farm's honey.
I was eagerly welcomed by Jodi, one of the Innkeepers. She showed me the grounds and told me the history of Lincoln Way Inn. Jodi checked me in and, to my surprise, told me a garage space comes with each room. After handing me a garage door opener I was given a full tour of the three-story house. It was an unusually quiet night. Since I was the first guest to arrive, she let me see each of the five rooms. Each is locally themed and has its own unique design and décor--all hand selected by Lisa. If Lisa ever gives up being an Innkeeper, she could easily go into interior decorating. Her hand-selected items from the bedframes and rugs to the most amazing pillows you will EVER lay your head on, are incredible. Entering each room was like entering a high-end interior design showroom or a Pinterest board come to life.
Disconnect from the day-to-day
When you’re not decompressing in the cedar sauna, taking a hot bath in a claw-foot tub, or ending your evening around the outdoor fireplace, there’s plenty to do and see around the Inn. You can choose to completely relax and be pampered with massages and facials but if you are an adventurer and outdoor enthusiast there are limitless options in the Franklin Grove area year round such as renting a bike, hiking, canoeing, bird watching, snowmobiling, antiquing, dining, wineries, horse-drawn carriage rides, history, live music, native bison, and even bee-keeping! Fitting them all in is the hardest part. From June – September guests can sign up to help harvest, extract and bottle honey at the Ayres property located just 3 miles away and they supply the bee suits and gloves!
Farm to table breakfasts
Guests are treated to a home-cooked breakfast made from locally grown and produced products. You can choose where you would like to dine – outside on the garden patio with a morning fire, in the dining room, on the front porch or they will even serve breakfast in bed. Lisa invited me to join her in the kitchen and talked about where some of the products came from and how important it was to support local farmers. Everything is local from their breads, meats, and garlic, to their own homemade honey. Needless to say, the breakfast was outstanding! Lisa set up a full breakfast of homemade scones with berry jam, yogurt with fresh berries and homemade granola, bacon, sausage, eggs with homemade seasoning, biscuits and gravy, and a selection of five different juices. In addition, she grinds coffee beans and steeps the most amazing coffee I've ever had.
Lisa’s husband has re-coined the term “it takes a village” to “it takes a Grove.” The entire staff loves what they do and go out of their way to offer an unforgettable experience. They want their guests to take away a memory they can go to when they return to their busy lives - that moment of pure zen and relaxation - with hopes they will visit again.
LINCOLN WAY INN BED & BREAKFAST
409 N. State Street
Franklin Grove, IL 61031
If you know me, you know I love alpacas. When I found out that there was an Alpaca Ranch in Prophetstown, I knew I had to visit.
The Deitrick's Alpaca Ranch is a 50-acre farm surrounded by corn, hay, and bean country down the backroads from Prophetstown. It felt like pulling into the family farm when I arrived. As I pulled in, Tracy, the ranch's head helper, came out eager to greet me for my personal tour. Tracy already knew of my alpaca obsession with the giant smile on my face the moment I set my eyes on one of their beautiful animals.
Dietrick's has been in the industry for twelve years. What started as a hobby with a herd of 7 Huacaya alpacas, has turned into 70 alpacas and growing. Tracy took me into the barn to show me their beautiful herd of show-quality alpacas. I think they were as excited to see me as I was to see them. The alpacas were separated mostly by gender and age. They came right up to the gate just like your dog would when you enter the door.
A very Social Breed
Alpacas are very social creatures. They are gentle and curious and with training can actually make great pets. Each has its own personality and they were excited to get our attention. I pointed out that I didn’t realize how varied alpaca coloring can be. Tracy explained that alpacas have up to 22 different color patterns.
An Alpaca produces enough fleece each year to provide plenty of sweaters, blankets, gloves and more. The Dietricks take pride in having alpacas that provide excellent fiber and color diversity. Alpacas are highly prized for their luxurious coats and are raised for their beautiful fleece. They produce one of the finest fibers in the world; as soft as cashmere but with a warmer, lighter, weight than wool. Tracy allowed me to go into the alpaca pens to feed them. They all surrounded me eager to eat out of my hands. The Huacaya breed of alpacas has a fluffy, teddy-bear-like appearance with curious personalities and expressions. We walked the grounds to see where they keep the teenage and senior alpacas.
Fun fact - alpacas can live up to 20 years!
The gift shop is stocked full of products such as gloves, hats, scarves, and sweaters made from the alpaca's fiber. Each tag is personalized and it will tell you which alpaca it came from. Deitrick's offer personal tours, are a popular spot for school trips, and hold open house events throughout the year. In the summertime, they have a summer camp where almost 600 kids visit the ranch and learn about these curious creatures.
Interested in visiting Deitrick's? Contact them during their summer season and you, too, can mingle with the herd of 70 alpacas, feed them, tour the ranch, learn about their lifestyle, and make new alpaca friends!
Come for a Visit
Deitrick's Alpaca Ranch
11200 Lomax Rd
This small business bursts with so much love and care, that you can feel it as soon as you are greeted at the door. Steam Anchor Coffee Company in Fulton, Illinois makes people feel like family.
It was the perfect rainy fall day when I visited. While I love fall, if we’re talking about coffee, I’m one of those women who wants to skip Pumpkin Spice Season and head straight into Peppermint Mocha Season. I ordered a Frost Mocha and sat in a quiet corner while the lunch rush died down and people enjoyed each others company.
Steam Anchor feels like home. They’re authentic, they’re original, and they care. When you walk in you are immediately greeted. Three large TV screens on the wall make ordering simple. It's not just the amazing coffee. They have salads, sandwiches, and ice cream. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served six days a week. And even better? They have a drive-thru!
By supporting small businesses, patrons help support a dream, a family, and so much more. When buying from a small business, an actual person does a little happy dance. Do you know who that person is? The owners and dreamers behind Steam Anchor, Benjamin and Paige Wilbur.
When I sat down to talk to Ben about the story behind his business, he immediately lit up and said, “We love people so stinking much. We have this Disney mentality and we want people to feel welcome just by entering our doors.”
And they do just that.
A little background
There wasn't much in the strip mall before Steam Anchor took up residence. When Ben and Paige did a business plan, the bank looked at them and said, “You do know that 9 out of 10 coffee houses close, right? What makes you so special?” Ben said that despite all of the research on demographics, target market, and marketing – none of it mattered. They were moving forward with their dream because they were called to do it. They have a heart for people and a vision that they knew couldn’t fail.
The Wilburs take great pride in serving the community and creating high-quality food and drinks. If you’re someone like me, you almost always ask questions about what specialty coffee drink is most popular, or what sandwich do people rave about most. The staff is knowledgeable on the menu and is happy to patiently answer any questions -- despite me always being indecisive between multiple things on the menu! The food is absolutely unparalleled. Everything is fresh and has great flavor. They prep and serve all food and drinks with care.
Besides coffee, Steam Anchor created a drink that seems to be very popular, the “Shockwave.” This colorful, energy-packed drink is an alternative to other energy drinks. Steam Anchor developed their own flavor profiles. They made them bright and colorful to appeal to the younger crowd who may not like coffee. When I asked Ben what the recipe was, he smiled at me and said, “It's a secret, so you will have to just order one and guess for yourself." They also have smoothies (Wild Berry Wonder is my personal favorite) and protein shakes on the menu.
Secret's out. An expansion is coming.
Ben let me in on a little secret… they are getting ready to expand! Steam Anchor is going from 1400 sq. ft to 2000. This is to add additional seating, offices, a conference room, and are you ready for it…. A ROASTERY!
Location and Hours
So If you’re searching for a place more connected to the daily hum around you, make Steam Anchor your new favorite stop. Open Monday – Friday 7:00 – 7:00 Saturday 7:00 – 3:00. Closed on Sundays.
...when a highly respected lawyer was murdered in front of his office doors. Just three doors down from the Savanna Historical Museum still sits the crime scene. And now the scene of the mysterious, unsolved murder is open for ghost tours.
Daniel S. Berry was a very prominent attorney and politician who took on some of the biggest cases in the county. He rented an office in the beautiful and historic Pulford building, owned by one of Savanna’s self-made millionaires, Bothwell Pulford. On the morning of May 22, 1905, Daniel Berry was unlocking his office door when he was shot and killed.
But who did it? Was the assailant a former convict that Berry had prosecuted? Or was it his once close friend Pulford who had heard speculation rumors of Berry and his wife, Lucinda, having an affair? Days later, Pulford took his own life, the mystery deepened. Why did he take his own life? Or was it someone else who did the dastardly deed?
At the time of the murder, Pulford was building a beautiful and grand opera house for his wife Lucinda. After the death of Pulford, the opera house construction completely stopped, and the grand staircases, stage, and dressing rooms remain eerily empty with frequent sounds of footsteps and faint whispering still haunting the halls. The opera house has remained empty up until 2018 when a paranormal believer toured and spent the night at the rumored haunted opera house and decided to open it up for tours after discovering the consistent paranormal activity.
2 A.M Paranormal opened the Pulford Opera House to the public earlier this year and is offering ghost tours seven days a week. You will not only learn the history and tour the haunted building, but will also have the opportunity to work with professional paranormal equipment to pick up anything unusual. Since opening, groups have been entering the tours as skeptics and left as believers. The tours are consistently picking up orbs, unusual frequencies and radiation, and hearing noises in the dark of the empty opera house. You will have the opportunity to discover the halted construction, which includes grand staircases that lead to nowhere, a large empty stage, a room where viewing booths and chairs would have been, and the very office and doorway where Berry was suspiciously murdered.
I toured the Pulford Opera House on a Friday afternoon where Jessica walked me around, told me the history, and let me look at the cameras and the equipment. They have two computer monitors showing the various cameras set up around the building to capture anything paranormal, which they do a lot! The Opera House construction came to a complete halt after the suspicious deaths. The grand staircases are built but lead to dead-end walls, the dressing rooms collect dust where the talent would have got dressed, the bathroom sits empty and dark with the original clawfoot tub weathering over time. We continued touring the halls where people would sleep, work, and hold parties and I thought to myself, "If only these walls could talk, think of the stories they would tell."
Tours? There are tours.
Maybe you’ll find the clue to the mysterious assassin who made his escape unseen. Or maybe you’ll run into him during your tour of the Pulford Opera House. 2 A.M. Paranormal offers tours seven days a week, during the week is by appointment only and they are open on weekends from 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. They offer one hour tours where you can get the tour and hear the history for $10, as well as three hour tours where you can tour the haunted Opera House for $25, hear the history and use professional ghost hunting equipment to pick up anything out of the ordinary (from what I hear, almost EVERY group who takes the full tour and uses the equipment picks up and sometimes even hears bumps in the night!)
Contact for tour setup
You can call Jessica at (402) 764-0967 to set up a tour! Or stop by on the weekend at 327 Main Street, Savanna Illinois.