DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson
LITTLE ITALY — Cinnamon roll pancakes and thick slices of french toast, served with Vermont maple syrup, are among the favorites at Sweet Maple Cafe.
But the warm buttermilk biscuits might be the key to the cafe’s future.
West Chatham native Laurene Hynson opened Sweet Maple, 1339 W. Taylor St., in 1999. Thanks to its location — near the University of Illinois-Chicago and its hospital — and its high quality dishes, business has been great, she said.
Lines of people clamoring for her food at the intimate eatery are common but Hynson said she has no plans of expanding the restaurant.
Laurene Hynson said some of her employees have been with her for up to 14 years. [DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson]
The future, she said, is in selling biscuit mixes for retail sales and wholesale distribution.
Indeed, the square biscuits are a major attraction. A Tribune review raved, “If that wonderful aunt of yours — the one who makes great fluffy biscuits and slices of ham off the bone for breakfast — opened a cafe, this is it.”
Online reviewers are equally effusive. “Mouth-watering, tongue-tickling,” opined one about the biscuits.
In a video posted on YouTube, Hynson said, “A lot of people think biscuits are difficult to make. But, in truth, nothing could be easier.”
Providing the mix to grocery stores and elsewhere is “a natural segue,” Hynson said.
Hynson is a Stanford-educated businesswoman and, as she explained it, kind of fell into the food industry. She was looking for investment property and was interested in doing rehabs when her real estate agent asked her about the building she’s in today, she said.
The original owner was in her late 70s and had been trying to lease the business. Hynson’s background was in telecommunications, which she worked in for 16 years, before staying at home to take care of her two young children. But she said she saw a great opportunity.
She did her research— and took the leap.
After leasing the property, she bought it in 2010 when the former owner, then in her 90s, moved out of state, she said.
“I wasn’t looking for a restaurant, but the deal was good,” Hynson explained. “I only had to hold it for $500 and it was fully equipped.”
For her upfront money she got the plates, the flatware, chairs and tables.
“It was very little capital investment so I just pulled carpet off and painted the walls to make it look old,” she said.
Hynson said she fell in love with cooking at age 9. When it came to putting together a menu for Sweet Maple, she used a combination of her own recipes and those from her family.
She’s kept the “down home” menu fairly simple, she said, with the usual breakfast choices but everything is made from scratch. The pancake choices include Not-So-Plain Buttermilk; Very Fresh Banana; Bursting with Blueberries; Chocolate Chip and Apple Spice. She likes to add a new pancake flavor every year.
Hynson also creates seasonal dishes and offers a lunch menu that includes a handful of specialty grilled cheese sandwiches.
Over the years, she has prided herself in making her restaurant feel like an extension of her home kitchen, and treating her customers and employees like family, she said.
MaryAnn Fitzpatrick has been dining at the restaurant for the past 10 years, coming in at least once a week.
“It’s a wonderful place,” Fitzpatrick said. “The staff here is great and there’s a lot of love.”