Hewn Bread, the Evanston bakery that’s earned a following well outside the North Shore, is opening a second bakery in Lake County.
Hewn’s second location, targeted for a fall debut in Libertyville, represents an increased focus on the bakery’s retail business. Since opening in Evanston in 2013, Ellen King and Julie Matthei have supplied bread and pastries to dozens of restaurants and coffee shops throughout the city and suburbs. But times are changing.
“Wholesale was never what I wanted to get into when I started this,” King says. “I just prefer having a relationship with the customers. Not that we don’t have relationships with our wholesale customers, because we do, but for me, wholesale, especially in this economy, is really just a grind. I don’t want to be working seven days a week. Julie and I just started feeling it was taking over way too much of our life.”
The stresses of the pandemic also helped King and Matthei reconsider their priorities.
“Just weathering the pandemic was brutal for everybody,” King says. “We just decided that it was time to take our foot off the pedal and be a little bit more in control of our business. (During COVID) we learned how to be a lot more flexible and a lot more resilient and be even more creative as a small business. We also realized that you can kind of get through a lot of different things as long as you have a good team of people.”
While the bakery is still supplying some Chicago-area restaurants including Alpana Singh’s new downtown Chicago restaurant, Evanston’s Union Pizzeria, and rock star Billy Corgan’s Highland Park tea house Madame Zuzu’s, Hewn severed ties with its biggest client: Sweetgreen, the nationally known salad giant.
“They were incredibly kind and nice, and they helped us get through the pandemic and helped us grow,” King says. “They had 13 spots that we were supplying, and that was really just eating us alive. I think the one thing everybody’s learned through the pandemic is that as long as people are being transparent and speaking honestly about why they’re doing something, then people are really respectful. Some customers were really sad when we weren’t going to go to the South Loop anymore, but they understood.”
Instead, King and Matthei are focused on catering to more of their suburban customers including a burgeoning base near the Wisconsin border.
“Customers drive from the city to come up to us, but also from parts of Wisconsin, northwest Illinois, and other parts outside of Chicago,” King says. “We’ve always toyed with opening a place just to serve those customers and it made sense to look at a suburb that’s a little bit further north than where we are.”
King says her customers campaigned for a Liberyville space and she found a location in her price range that was built as an electronics showcase in the 1920s. All of the baked goods will still be made in the 6,500-square-foot space in Evanston that Hewn moved into in 2020, and the delivery vans that had been used for their wholesale business will instead head to Libertyville.
Libertyville’s initial menu will be a scaled-back version of Evanston’s, serving up favorites including croissants, brownies, and loaves of blonde country and whole wheat seeded bread. Grab-and-go lunch sandwiches such as the caprese and turkey with cranberry offered in Evanston will likely roll out early next year. The new location will also expand on the bakery’s coffee program through a partnership with Counter Culture Coffee, which offers free education and classes to both the baristas and bakers.
“We have some really creative baristas that have been kind of coming up with different drinks, like an elderberry drink or different lavenders,” King says. “We’ll have the kombucha on tap, we’ll have our cold brew. We’re not going to be too revolutionary, but just kind of having a little bit of fun with.”
If successful, the Libertyville bakery could serve as a template for further Hewn locations in the suburbs.
“We have some places approaching us about going there, but we’ve been hesitant to move too far forward until we can really feel comfortable that Libertyville is working,” King says.
Hewn Bread, 348 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Libertyville, scheduled for a fall opening.