Before Innkeeper’s Coffee came to Galesburg, Laura Kirven didn’t like coffee.
“At the time, I didn’t even own a coffee pot,” the owner of the Galesburg Antiques Mall Company said.
So Innkeeper’s owners Mike Bond and Johan Ewalt started to give her free coffee and a variety of drinks.
“They gave me free coffee for a year,” Kirven said. “I finally started liking some of the sweet stuff. Now, I’m hardcore. I buy their beans, I have my own grinder, I don’t put in sugar or sweetener, I buy iced lattes with nothing in them.”
Innkeeper’s Coffee, now located at 80 N. Seminary St., first opened in a 16 by 16 square foot space at the back of the Galesburg Antiques Mall Company in 1998. The response from the town was unlike anything Bond and Ewalt expected.
“We were going to roast coffee, that was our primary goal when we opened up this store Ñ to roast coffee and sell it to wholesale accounts and bed and breakfasts,” Bond said. “We opened the doors and there was an immediate love for coffee, which we did not expect.”
The business moved to its current location in 2003, when it had outgrown the original space. After they opened in 1998, both Ewalt and Bond’s mothers would help them run the shop. By the time they moved locations, the small space at the back of the Antique Mall was crowded and they had hired five additional employees.
The owners found that their customers not only wanted coffee, but they wanted baked goods. So they brought in baked items from Uncle Billy’s Bakery down the street. By expanding to their current location, the company was able to bake their own items and expand to a full lunch service.
Kirven said that having the coffee shop at the back of her store was a business-builder. She loved working alongside Bond and Ewalt, but knew that moving to their own location was the right decision and she still is in the drive-thru line everyday to get an iced latte.
“Innkeeper’s is one of the best things that’s happened to this part of the town,” Kirven said. “It’s a place for people to go and and get top-notch coffee, it’s comfortable, it’s a place for people to meet and hang out. It’s just been a winner since day one.”
Both Bond and Ewalt are from Galesburg originally, but left the town to pursue careers out of state. When they returned in 1996, they owned a bed and breakfast before opening Innkeeper’s two years later, which is where the company got its name. When they first opened, they had goals of selling their roasted coffee to other bed and breakfasts in Illinois.
“We [became] so busy, that never really happened,” Bond said. He and Ewalt closed their bed and breakfast business in 2010.
Bond became interested in roasting coffee after his brother and sister-in-law started doing it themselves in Atlanta.
“I had the opportunity to drink my brother’s coffee and it was just so amazingly different than buying coffee at the grocery store out of a can,” he said. “There really is a difference between freshly roasted coffee and not being able to find it, you decide that let’s just create it, so we started roasting it ourselves.”
Innkeeper’s purchases coffee from two different coffee brokers in California, one of which Bond has worked with for 18 years. All of the coffees roasted by Innkeeper’s are shade-grown and from small plantations.
For senior Jess Fritts, the company’s emphasis on sustainability is important.
“As a consumer I just always try to be very conscious of the impact that my purchases are having on the people and the environment and I like supporting businesses that have that same set of ideals,” she said.
Fritts has been addicted to coffee since she was in eighth grade. She started drinking black coffee because she wanted to be like her grandfather. Growing up, she became more interested in the sourcing and understanding where her coffee was coming from.
“I went away from, ‘let’s go get the biggest can of Folgers and use that.’ I became more into who are the farmers and where is this coming from? How is it traveling those distances? Just kind of the entire process to this cup that I’m getting in the mornings,” Fritts said.
Innkeeper’s now supplies all of the coffee served by Knox College Dining Services. Prior to Bon Apptit heading Dining Services, Innkeeper’s only supplied coffee for the Gizmo.
A special fair trade roast is prepared specifically for Knox and is not sold in stores. The college also serves a rotating flavored option. Bond estimated that about 100 pounds of coffee goes to Knox every other week.
Fritts buys bags of the coffee for her own personal use. She uses a hand grinder, a scale and a french press to prepare it in her apartment. She normally buys the Innkeeper’s Blend, but will chat with Bond when she’s in the store about their other roasts and branch out from time to time.
“I just love the taste of fresh roasted coffee. I think it really does make a difference. I love that they do small batch. That’s again something that I think tastes better,” Fritts said. “I love their dedication and their love for coffee because that’s definitely something I can relate to.”
Like Fritts, sophomore Rebekah Osbon makes coffee in her dorm with a french press. She gets her beans from Gruene Coffeehaus in Texas, a spot she discovered on a roadtrip. When she does go out for coffee in Galesburg, she generally goes to The Beanhive and sees Innkeeper’s as more of a spot for lunch.
“It feels more like a restaurant than a coffeehouse, plus they don’t have wi-fi, so I don’t feel like I can be productive there,” Osbon said.
For Fritts, the crowd of local residents at Innkeeper’s makes it a more appealing choice.
“Usually I find the biggest student population at The Beanhive, but I find the biggest local population at Innkeeper’s and I think that’s one of the reasons I like it. Because I really trust that,” Fritts said.