Industry, innovation have found a home at Sally Sue’s Coffee
MAGNOLIA — Tyler Reaska has used enthusiasm and innovation to not only oversee the creation of an impressively growing small business, but he is also dedicated to helping restore the vitality of his hometown.
A thriving coffee roasting business seems like the type of business that would have been at home in Magnolia during the time of the railroad. In those days, the village had regular train routes, a bank, doctors, sawmill, photographer, butcher, blacksmith, theater, grain elevator, barber, insurance agent, restaurants, ice house, brick yard, grocery store, hardware store and many other things.
“It was important to me to come back to try and help my hometown,” Reaska, founder of Sally Sue’s Coffee, said.
His quick success with providing organic, fair trade coffee to major regional retailers such as Hy-Vee, Schnuck’s, Green Top Grocery, Naturally Yours Grocery, Woodman’s, Valli Produce, Fresh Thyme, Tony’s Fresh Market, Brookhaven Market Place, as well as Illinois Valley establishments such as Bean Box, Uptown Grill and Rawfully Yours, is impressive.
A possible agreement with Jewel-Osco and another major retailer is also pending, and Reaska said he’s anticipating having 15 employees by the end of this year.
“It’s been a challenge with how quickly we’ve grown, but I want to be sure to remain that local face they know and trust to be taking care of the quality,” he said.
However, one needs to look back a bit further into Reaska’s story for what’s unique about his surprising journey.
After earning his master’s degree from Western Illinois University with a thesis on the coffee industry, Reaska’s interest only grew. Through reading, online research and plenty of trial and error, he was able to teach himself the finer points of roasting coffee.
For a roaster during those early days, he tapped into his own cleverness and made his own from a George Foreman oven and a heat gun. Housed in a backyard shed, he was soon using the makeshift roaster to fill orders.
“It was working, but I realized how inefficient it was and that I needed something better,” he said.
Less than three years from those early days in the shed, Reaska has moved into a building at 110 N. Chicago St. in Magnolia. Featuring two industrial roasters and grinders, Sally Sue’s is now capable of roasting 235 pounds of raw beans an hour, and the demand is only growing.
“We’re not even done remodeling this building and we’re already planning for an expansion. We’re also looking at getting another building here in town for additional storage,” he said.
Reaska explained the difference between Sally Sue’s Coffee and the mass-produced store brands or chains, such as Starbucks, is the attention to detail during the roasting. The only way those makers can maintain consistency on such a large scale is to essentially roast their beans to the point of being burnt, he said. This method produces the bitter taste commonly associated with them and creates the need for lots of cream and sugar to mask the unpleasant flavors.
At Sally Sue’s, each individual batch of beans is closely monitored as the air and bean temperatures approach the desired levels. When the first beans begin to pop, it won’t be long until they are removed at the perfect moment. The pleasant roasted aroma not only fills Sally Sue’s building, but spreads throughout the entire village.
The beans are toasty and edible right out of the roaster, and just like when they’re brewed, they reveal their smooth and complex flavors without a hint of bitterness.
Sally Sue’s new building also features an up-front cafe designed for Magnolia residents and taste testing.
“I thought it’d be neat for our residents to be able to take a walk down the street and get some really good coffee right here in Magnolia,” Reaska said.
The name Sally Sue’s was inspired by his mother and the business is helped by several family members, including Reaska’s fiancee, Emily Wingate.
Sally Sue’s is also dedicated to being environmentally friendly and sustainable. They use only fair trade, organically sourced coffee because Reaska wants those harvesting the raw beans to be paid a fair wage. Organic beans are used to help preserve the land rather than soaking it with chemicals, and the roasted beans are packaged in eco-friendly packaging. The empty coffee sacks that once held 156 pounds of raw beans are donated for craft projects to convert them into bags or decor.
“We also compost the chaff from our roasting and have capital budgeting expenditures for green energy technology to help reduce our footprint,” Reaska said.
For more information, visit www.sally-sues.com online or visit the cafe in downtown Magnolia. Sally Sue’s can be reached via phone at 309-532-7285 or by email at Sales@sally-sues.com.