Popular Joliet library cafe closing as owners are retiring

Library considers other uses for space at Black Road Branch

Grady and Tammy Duckworth, owners of the Book and Bean Cafe at the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch are retiring, and the cafe is closing at the end of December. Dec. 2, 2023.

The Book and Bean Cafe will serve its last cup of coffee for Joliet library patrons Dec. 30.

Tammy Duckworth, who has run the cafe since 2011 at the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch, and co-owner husband, Grady Duckworth, are retiring.

Owning the business was a dream and closing it is hard, Tammy said during an interview at the coffee shop Saturday afternoon when it was filled with customers.

“Everyday it’s an emotional roller coaster for me,” she said. “People say they’re happy for me, but they’re sad for the community. They’re sad that it’s going away.”

The Joliet Public Library is undecided about what to do next with the space at the front entrance to the library. But at least for now, it is not continuing as a cafe.

The Duckworths were not the first to run the cafe at the library, but they’ve been the most durable and built it into the community gathering place that it has become.

Tammy leaped at the chance to buy the Book and Bean Cafe when she learned the previous owner wanted to sell.

Tammy Duckworth prepares coffee while the Book and Bean Cafe at the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch was filled with customers on Saturday afternoon. Dec. 2, 2023.

“I always wanted a coffee shop,” she said. “I grew up in a small town where all the businesses were independently owned and operated.”

Tammy grew up in Lake Placid, New York. Grady is from Louisiana. They met in the Army where they both served. Their work after the military eventually brought them to Joliet.

Grady said their customers are happy for them that they are retiring.

“But they’re sad to see her (Tammy) go, and they tell her everyday,” Grady said. “She’s the big draw. Tammy just interacts with people well. She’s a caring person. We’ve made many friends through here.”

Adding to the sadness is the loss of the cafe.

“I love the atmosphere,” said Liz Mitchell of Rockdale, a library patron who comes to the Book and Bean Cafe to do homework for her Joliet Junior College classes, play strategic board games with the We Got Game group that meets there, and just to relax and socialize.

“It’s a nice place to get together with people and to set and talk.”

Employee Hannah Yang takes customer orders at the Book and Bean Cafe. She is the second in her family after her older brother to have worked at the coffee shop at the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch. Dec. 2, 2023.

The Duckworths had planned to sell the business.

The themselves bought it from the previous owner who gave the cafe its name.

But after informing the library that they were retiring and putting the business up for sale, they were informed that the library may not want to continue using the space for a cafe.

“The timing is just not right,” said library Executive Director Megan Millen.

Future of that space

The library is about to embark on a remodeling plan for the Black Road Branch. Whether to continue using the cafe space as a cafe will be up for consideration, Millen said.

“We know that our top goal is to remodel the Black Road Branch,” she said. “We want to make the best use of the space and not be tined into a contract with an unknown owner for an undetermined amount of time.”

Space is in high demand at the Black Road Branch, library officials said. Potential uses for the cafe space include a digital media studio, which the library has at its Ottawa Street Branch. Millen said public opinion will be considered when deciding future use for the cafe space.

A sign posted above the Fall Menu at the Book and Bean Cafe advises people that the coffee shop at the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch will close at the end of December. Dec. 2, 2024.

“I’m sure there’s a large chunk that would want it to be a cafe,” she said. “But I’m sure there’s a large chunk that would want it to be something else.”

The remodeling plan will not be completed until sometime in 2024, probably later in the year, Millen said.

The Bean and Book space in the meantime will continue to be used although not as a cafe.

“It’s not going to sit empty. That’s for sure,” Millen said.

The space will be used for library programs, and groups like We Got Game that use it as gathering space are welcome to contact the library about continued use of the space.

The Duckworths are moving on to the next stage in their lives, something they began discussing when Grady retired from ComEd in June 2021.

“We talked about what we wanted to do afterwards,” Grady said. “Afterwards has arrived.”