Family recipes often carry the “secret” label, meaning only Mom or Grandma knew how to make a particular dish but would pass along their knowledge to others.
When those recipes fell into the “top secret” category, it was really special and likely that no one ever had the recipe written down.
Catherine Sheehan of St. Charles knows this scenario well, crediting an “oral, historic recipe” as the key to why the biscuits she makes at her new Bloom + Bread store in The Berry House in Geneva are “so great.”
After a couple of years of operating what she calls a “southern company” in various locations as pop-up stores in empty retail spaces, Sheehan found the permanent setting she wanted for selling her floral arrangements, southern market products and bakery goods.
Bloom + Bread has been open for just more than a month on the second floor of The Berry House, across the hall from the El Molcajete restaurant. As soon as Sheehan begins a relationship with a shared kitchen in Sycamore on Nov. 1, she plans to have the store more regularly fully stocked with a southern flair.
“This is all really about the family table,” said Sheehan, a former lawyer in Kane County. “I spent a lot of time in the south in Georgia, and what I found so delightful and charming in the culture down there was everyone would gather at the table, whether it was someone’s home, at a church or a public function.”
by signing up you agree to our terms of service
Sheehan is quick to point out that Bloom + Bread, at its core, is a bakery. “People love our biscuits, and it’s a recipe I learned when I was a member of a women’s auxiliary group in Georgia,” she said. “This older lady in the group took a liking to me, and she taught me the recipe.”
From left, employee Paige Barter and owner Catherine Sheehan of Bloom + Bread show some of the holiday decorations available at the store located in The Berry House in Geneva. – Courtesy of Dave Heun
But the transfer of the biscuit recipe came with a caveat. “She told me, this is very special, and I am going to share the recipe with you, and you can teach it to your children and others if you want, but don’t write it down,” Sheehan noted. “A lot of it is exact measurements, but a lot of it is just feel, and you have to love the bread.
“And it’s all up here,” she said, pointing to her head.
Sheehan wants to be an entrepreneur who “leads with social consciousness, in that we don’t have to market ourselves as the picture-perfect families you see on social media. We can be diverse without a super conservative narrative in our food prep and floral design.”
In many ways, Sheehan has already traveled a difficult path to reach this phase of her Bloom + Bread dream.
After practicing law in Kane County, she became quite ill and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about five years ago. She left law to work at some nonprofits while also enduring a setback with her treatment regimen.
“I was put on the best medication for bipolar, but one in a million people have a rare genetic response to it, and I was that one,” she said. “They had to take me off that and start new medication, and it was kind of difficult.”
She was let go from a fundraising job at the Aurora Food Pantry when the pandemic hit. Instead, she began considering advancing the floral décor and bakery goods she had been selling at farmers markets in Campton Hills.
“The next thing I knew, we had a 45-minute wait for people who wanted the biscuits and flowers, and it just kind of grew from there,” Sheehan added. “And our puddings are really popular, too.”
Sheehan feels a positive trend with six employees and the new kitchen arrangements.
Her pop-up store won a contest at the Geneva Commons earlier this year to earn retail space in the Randall Road outdoor mall, but she turned that down because she wanted her southern company to start with a small-town, downtown feel. Third Street in Geneva fits that bill.
Paige Barter, a junior at Batavia High School who has worked with Sheehan the past year, sums up the Bloom + Bread mission well.
“People with roots in the south contact us and are happy to see we have products they are familiar with that they can’t find anywhere else, but most of our customers have not lived in the south,” Barter said.
“We want to make a point to recognize the roots of southern culture here,” Barter said, adding that cookbooks and literature in the store emphasize those roots.
The store is open Thursday through Sunday, but online orders are available. Sheehan plans to add more days as more customers become aware of the operation, which also features monthly classes.
At some point, Sheehan would like to see her business explode into a large setting for a sit-down restaurant, a full market space and a center for weddings and special events.
“I don’t want to be the star of the show,” Sheehan emphasized. “I want my whole team involved and recognized.”
Farewell to a favorite
About 10 years ago, when working on a story about bank technology, I interviewed a banker from the United Kingdom over lunch at Chianti’s Ristorante in Geneva. This fellow drove from Chicago to meet me at the popular 201 S. Third Street restaurant.
He later said the restaurant was as good as any he had dined at in his travels. This was good to hear, as Chianti was always one of our favorites.
But more recently, you could tell the restaurant was struggling a bit with staffing and service. Thus, it was no surprise that its doors closed recently.
The Mandrake Small Plates + Libations restaurant in Yorkville has revealed it will soon open in the Chianti building. The reviews on social media have been very positive for Mandrake.
A retirement party was recently held for Ellen Huxtable of Batavia, a longtime community volunteer and small business consultant. – Courtesy of Congregational Church of Batavia A farewell cake for Ellen
One of the most interesting interviews I had for the column this year was talking to Ellen Huxtable of Batavia about her family’s experiences in a Japanese detention camp during World War II. Huxtable intends to spend more time telling that story.
She announced her intention to step down at the end of the year after more than two decades of helping small businesses and entrepreneurs pursue their dreams through group sessions at the Congregational Church of Batavia.
Her friends and followers at the church had a retirement party for her last week, featuring a farewell cake.
Sam gets his park
Last week, the Geneva Park District honored one of its former board members and biggest supporters, dedicating the ball fields and skate park off South Street as Sam Hill Park.
Many friends and colleagues at the park district and city hall came out for the dedication ceremonies. Many of them are quick to point out that Hill, a longtime park board and city council member in Geneva who passed away on July 5, likely has had something to do with the great success his beloved Fighting Illini are having on the gridiron.
His son, Jeff Hill, really hit the mark when telling the story of how Sam, struggling with memory loss, still made it out to that same park to play with his grandkids two years ago.
“He not only served on the park board and helped promote park district events, he really loved the parks and loved being in them,” Jeff said.
History and fun at Villa
Kids between the ages of 8 and 13 can get a quick history lesson along with a night of games, snacks and a fun movie when the Preservation Partners of Fox Valley host a Night at the Villa from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11.
Anyone who hasn’t visited the Fabyan Villa Museum in Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva may want to take this opportunity to see the 1907 Frank Lloyd Wright home while their children learn about the family and meet the Fabyan Mummy and other interesting items.
The movie “Night at the Museum” will end the evening.
Tickets are $15 per child but are free for an attending adult. Those attending should bring a pillow and blanket for comfort on the floor. A flashlight to help make your way back to the parking lot is also suggested.
Popcorn, cookies, water and juice will be available, but attendees can also bring snacks.
Tickets are available on the ppfv.org website.
Big Bands live on
This sounds like a great music program and one that keeps the excitement and history of the Big Band era alive in our young musicians.
The Fox Valley Music Foundation is partnering with the Pete Ellman Big Band to provide area students with the opportunity to perform before a live audience at The Venue in downtown Aurora.
St. Charles North High School students are scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, while West Aurora High School is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22.
The Big Band Residency Series takes place on Tuesdays, and tickets cost $5. Doors open for the show a half-hour before performance time and the students’ performance opens the show.
Any music lover who hasn’t visited The Venue at 21 S. Broadway should do so. It’s become an excellent place to listen to live music. Tickets are available at themusicvenue.org.
About those Circus Peanuts
Candy has stood the test of time as far as my life goes. Even as a senior citizen, I like most of the same candy I consumed as a youth.
But when Candystore.com sends its poll results, an annual list of Worst and Best Halloween Candies, it does make me ponder why certain ones rank so poorly. Maybe it has more to do with what sits well in a kid’s candy sack or plastic pumpkin, but looks and taste play a part.
As such, I admit to liking Circus Peanuts, those orange-colored sugar concoctions that look like circus peanuts. Yet, they earned the spot as the No. 1 worst Halloween candy.
You won’t hear me questioning the poll’s No. 1 best Halloween candy. I have always liked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Still, my personal favorite would be Kit-Kats. They are a nice chocolate treat.