'We do everything by hand in house': Evanston bakery to open location in Libertyville
Hewn Bread will open next week in downtown Libertyville as a cozy reminder of the original spot on Dempster Street in Evanston, where partners Julie Matthei and Ellen King began a business baking from scratch.
That was 2013, and their handcrafted breads, pastries and sandwiches became a grab-and-go hit and a staple for restaurants and coffee shops that comprised Hewn's significant wholesale business.
With success came a move to a bigger space they renovated on Central Street near Northwestern University's Ryan Field. But that was in early 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Things got a little interesting during that time," recalled Matthei. "The only way to move through challenges is to pivot and move forward. We saw the business grow during that time, oddly enough."
But the increased workload and challenges of the pandemic made them refocus on the retail side of the business.
"We've moved away from wholesale," Matthei said. "This is where we want to focus our energies right now.
There always has been a contingent of out-of-town fans and a second Hewn location became the goal.
"We have a lot of customers who drive a significant distance to come here," Matthei said of the Evanston location, where various offerings are baked.
The new Libertyville location is in the distinctive Public Service building, a historic landmark built in 1928 for utility magnate Samuel Insull on the southeast corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Church Street. The grand opening is planned for Thursday.
Insull's commercial building was built for his bank and to promote potential uses of electricity. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, it's now a mix of commercial, residential and office uses.
Hewn will occupy a 925-foot space at 348 N. Milwaukee Ave. As with the Evanston location, it won't be a sit-down bakery but strictly grab-and-go.
"It's small. It's cozy. But it reminds me of our first iteration," Matthei said. "It truly is an outpost. We'll be delivering everything fresh."
King grew up in Naperville and studied in Seattle to become a classically trained chef. Matthei, originally from Long Island, is a guidance counselor by training, working at Loyola Academy.
The pair met after King started the Underground Bread Club in Evanston. Intrigued, Matthei joined and the two persevered to open their own business.
Hewn means to cut or shape by hand.
"We do everything by hand in-house," Matthei said. "It is a labor of love. It takes two days to make a loaf of bread."
The menu in Libertyville will be scaled down to some extent, and sandwiches, for example, won't be offered.
But the bread selection will include the signature country loaf, blonde country loaf, whole wheat seeded and specialty loaves rotated daily and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Food & Wine magazine featured Hewn as one of the "Best Bakeries in America" and also in the article "The Best Bread in Every State." Hewn was listed among the best bread bakeries by the Food Network and one of the best bakeries in Chicago by Thrillist.
Customers run the gamut, Matthei said.
"It's people who really love good food and want to support local businesses and appreciate the craftsmanship," she said.