BURLINGTON — In the display cases at the Sugar Bean Café, 256 E. Chestnut St., Elisabeth Swirth’s brightly colored chocolate truffles shimmer like marbles.
A chocolatier with almost 20 years of experience in Milwaukee, Swirth makes them in small batches completely by hand.
“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “The thing that makes it worth it is all the smiles on everybody’s faces when they’re in here.”
The small café offering coffee and an assortment of desserts was a longtime dream for Swirth and her boyfriend Tim Bocek; they’d tried to open a similar business together before, but it had never been the right time.
This time they’re determined to stick with it, come hell or high water — a phrase that became quite literal this past summer.
Something fun to do
Bocek had worked at restaurants growing up but has worked as a bio technician, repairing medical equipment, for 21 years. But he decided it was time for a change.
“As I’m getting older, I’m looking for something more fun to do,” he said.
Swirth and Bocek decided they wanted to do a dessert café, a combination of tasty treats and delicious coffee. Bocek stressed that for the items they don’t make in-house, they sought out the best vendors for their cookies and doughnuts.
They recently signed an agreement with Colectivo Coffee and Troubadour Bakery so that starting Saturday, they’ll carry their coffee and baked goods in the café. They’re also going to expand their coffee menu to include espresso and cappuccino.
Sometime in the future, Bocek said he’d like to offer treats such as crème brûlée or chocolate soufflé.
“In order to get these kind of things, you have to go to a fancy restaurant, spend $200 on a meal to have these kinds of desserts,” said Bocek. “What I want to do is bring it here to where people can come in and they could get crème brûlée, chocolate soufflé, a piece of lemon cake or some very good chocolate.”
Eventually they’d also like to offer sandwiches, soups and other café fare. But they’ve been forced to open slowly, building onto the business as they go.
When Bocek and Swirth signed the lease last summer, the space was just four bare walls, so Bocek got to work on the construction. Then one month later, in mid-July, the flood filled their basement. Fortunately, it didn’t touch the upstairs with all the equipment, but it made Bocek’s life pretty miserable.
“I worked in here for two months. It was 85, 90 degrees, no air conditioning, nothing but fans and the windows open,” he said. “This was a labor of love for me, too, because nothing was easy for me at the start of this. It was just one thing after another.”
The café opened in late October in time for the holiday season.
“When we finally got the doors open, it was a great accomplishment and relief,” said Bocek.
Because of the flood, they were $20,000 in debt, but largely through word-of-mouth and social media, they have brought in a regular stream of customers. In addition to Burlington-ites, the store has drawn people from the Milwaukee and Kenosha areas.
Swirth said one reason she thinks the café has done so well so far is the emphasis on food that not only looks good but tastes good as well.
“What I hated the most was when I bought something because it was absolutely beautiful and then I took it outside and it didn’t exactly taste too good,” said Swirth. “I wanted to make sure we had both things here — we both wanted to make sure that we use very high quality Belgian chocolate, we use very high quality natural fruit purees and natural fruit ingredients to make sure that everything tastes as good as it looks.”