STERLING – Steven Papke and Alije Adams were ready for a change in their professional lives, and the result is Sophie’s Cafe.
Named after the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Sophie’s Cafe, 4311 E. Lincolnway, has been doing a steady business since opening March 1.
“I’m just flabbergasted by the amount of support we’ve had,” Papke said. “It took off way faster than we thought. We haven’t even had our grand opening yet, and it’s doing a lot better than we expected.”
Papke was a correctional officer at the Dixon prison for 6 years. His fiancee, Adams, was a correctional officer there for 5 years. It’s a job neither one wanted to make a career of, and that led them to the restaurant business.
Adams comes from a restaurant background. Her parents owned the Mount Morris Family Restaurant, and she worked there for about 15 years before it closed in 2014.
“We always had the mindset of going into our own business,” Papke said. “We both have worked for the state for a long time, working for somebody else. This is our next venture, working for ourselves.
“This took a lot of years of planning to put all of this together. We worked a lot of odd jobs and overtime to make this work, so this has been a long development process. It’s nice to see it bearing fruit now.”
Some of the biggest hits have been jumbo cinnamon rolls for breakfast, with chicken pesto sandwiches and pulled turkey sandwiches being big sellers for lunch and dinner.
Adams was heavily involved in setting the menu, and many of the recipes are her own.
“It started off with me thinking about all of my favorite foods,” Adams said. “Then we actually had a chef come in and help us develop the menu. We did a test kitchen, and I basically told him this is what I want. We put everything together and saw what worked, what tasted good, and that’s how we came up with everything that we have.
“It’s basically my favorite foods.”
A wide selection of coffee is available, both to drink in the cafe and by bag to order, Customers are welcome to try samples in the store, then order there or online. A special twist: The coffee is roasted in-house.
“The difference between that and just going to the store and buying coffee is we don’t add the additives and preservatives that they do for the shelf life,” Papke said. “You’re actually getting the real McCoy, the real deal. We import it, we roast it and we give it to you. We have more than 120 blends of coffee for you to choose from. It’s very extensive.
“The coffee speaks for itself. We’ve had numerous people tell us it’s the best coffee they’ve ever had.”
Adams and Papke want Sophie’s Cafe to have something for everyone. For the little ones, Adams has a Where’s Waldo figurine hidden in the store, and if they can find him, youngsters win a free pastry.
For the older crowd, alcohol is available. By the end of the month, six gaming machines will be up and running in a room separate from the dining area.
The dining area includes a nook in the front of the building that has been popular with college students looking for a place to study; tables for traditional dining; and a casual corner with a small coffee table, a television, magazines and free wi-fi.
“Sometimes the guys want to go out and the girls want to go out, but they want to do different things,” Papke said. “If the guys want to come drink and gamble, they can do that. If the girls want to have their coffees and teas, watch a movie or just hang out and chill, it’s an environment where they both can do something, be together, but be separate at the same time.”
Another popular feature has been contact-free mobile ordering, for those who do not want to dine in. The full menu is available on Facebook, and ordering can be done by downloading an app to your phone.
There are three parking spaces reserved in front of Sophie’s Cafe for those picking up food and/or drink orders. People either can come in, or there is also curbside delivery.
“We have a lot of healthcare staff from CGH that come here and support us,” Adams said. “A lot of them will order a few hours ahead of time, and we’ll have it ready when they get off of work. They just come in, grab it and go.”
There is also a small gift shop, with coffee mugs and hand-crafted items made by local small businesses and local entrepreneurs.
Long-range plans are to make this Sophie’s Cafe the flagship store, with other identical stores being built in other communities sometime down the road.
“We’re just very excited to be able to do this,” Adams said. “We want everybody to be able to come in here and find something.”
Sophie’s Cafe is open 7 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, in the Pine Tree Plaza shopping center. Call 815-718-8518 or find Sophie’s Cafe Sterling on Facebook for a menu and more information.