This will be sweet

This will be sweet

Lately, on my early morning dog walks through the neighborhood, I’ve become a bit of a snoop.

You know, like when you check out the neighbors’ remodeling job as you stroll by, only to realize they’re sitting on the porch watching you watch them. Oops.

This time, my target is a business — the new Hopscotch bakery and coffee shop at the corner of John and Pine streets, expected to open later this summer.

The remodeling of the former dietary food store is almost complete, which is big news in our Champaign neighborhood. I’m not the only dog walker who’s stolen a few peeks at the warm gray checkerboard floor, vintage counters and cozy tables and chairs inside.Blog Photo

Every neighborhood needs a gathering spot, whether it’s the house where friends have tea on the porch (or drinks in the driveway) or the yard with the giant treehouse where kids congregate.

For years, parents who linger to chat before and after school at nearby South Side Elementary School have looked at the storefront across the street, thinking, “I wish someone would open a coffee shop there.”

PTA President Jill Gengler, who lives next door to what will be Hopscotch: Bakery + Market, is already planning to hold board meetings there.

“Once we all started hearing that it’s actually going to be a bakery with little tables, everybody was really excited,” she said.

The neighborhood feel is one reason pastry chef Kaya Tate chose to open her business in the building owned by Champaign attorney Jeffrey Wampler, who bought it in May 2016.Blog Photo

“I love the area. I’ve always loved that building,” she said.

Wampler grew up in the neighborhood when the building was a corner grocery store. It’s a throwback to the days when every neighborhood had a grocery and a corner bar, and people didn’t have cars to drive 20 blocks to a giant supermarket, Gengler said.

“It’s great to have a locally owned business moving into this building,” Gengler said. “To me, it’s holding a piece of history. It’s such a unique part of our neighborhood.”

Tate hopes to re-create that “local corner store vibe.” Besides having a full espresso menu, “fancy drinks,” desserts and breakfast pastries, the shop will carry locally sourced eggs, cheese and milk, fresh flowers, packaged coffee, handmade greeting cards, candles and other gifts, including cake stands from family-owned Mosser Glass in Ohio — real jadeite, not reproduction, she said.Blog Photo

“Basically, the store is just everything I love.”

She also plans to sell bread from the local Bread Company, as she and husband Travis Tate are good friends with owners Derrick and Lindsay Aikman. Derrick Aikman also grew up down the street at Green and Pine streets, she said.

“All of my purveyors are friends of mine,” from Champaign-Urbana or Portland where she grew up.

Tate and designer Kelly Hieronymus have put in a handful of black and white tables, plus a couch for additional seating (think “Friends”). A freshly painted flower case is a carry-over from the dietary store.

As with any old building, the remodeling has run into a few snags — the floor is slanted, and “the entire kitchen area had no structure,” Tate said. “Every time you open up a new wall, there’s a new problem.”

But the contractor, Sunbuilt Homes, has tackled problems quickly, she said, and Wampler has worked hard to ensure things go smoothly.

He helped her navigate the three-month zoning approval process for a special-use permit, as the neighborhood is zoned for single-family residential use. When he bought the building, it was no longer grandfathered in, she said.

The permit carries some limitations — no dumpsters, for instance, and it can’t be open past 8 p.m. At least one neighbor registered concern about additional cars parking in the area, but the building has a small lot, and Gengler said it’s a fairly high-traffic area already with South Side and the Mellon Building nearby.Blog Photo

Hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday to cater to school traffic and customers on their way to or from work. It will also be open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

“I hate it when bakeries aren’t open on Sundays. That’s when I want a cinnamon roll,” Tate said.

Tate had been scouting for a building ever since she moved to Champaign several years ago. She had gone to culinary school but didn’t want the high-stress life of a chef — working nights, weekends and holidays. Plus, she’s a vegetarian and “didn’t want to work with meat.”

“I just like to make things that look nice and taste good,” she said.

She has worked for large catering companies, preparing desserts for thousands at a time, and for fine-dining restaurants. But she wanted to start her own business, and in April 2015 started renting a kitchen from the Cracked Commissary (owned by proprietors of the Cracked food truck) and started selling her pastries at Urbana’s farmers’ market.

“I didn’t want to go into business in debt, so I made pretty strategic decisions about growth,” she said.

Then the owners of Art Mart, Brian and Courtney McKay, invited her to open a counter in their store when they moved to their Champaign location last year. That allowed her to grow without taking on too many expenses, crucial for someone in the food business, where profit margins are slim and failure rates are high, she said.

Tate will be headquartered on John Street but keep her Art Mart location as well.Blog Photo

She had put in an offer on one other building, at Springfield and Prospect avenues, but “it wasn’t the right spot,” she said. “This is in a neighborhood. It’s like we have our own cozy little area, we have our own little backyard.”

She hopes to attract regular customers who will “come and stay.”

“I hope it’s walk-in, people who have their kids who go to school nearby,” she said.
“You can basically see entire families grow up.”

Already, lots of neighbors have stopped by — usually with a dog — including South Side Principal Bill Taylor, who grew up in the neighborhood.

“Everybody’s been super nice and supportive,” Tate said. “I love this location.”

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com.

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