New cafe brings slice of Italy to Buchanan community

Published 9:20 am Friday, January 28, 2022

BUCHANAN — A local business owner has brought a slice of Italy to downtown Buchanan for all to enjoy.

Joe Paolucci and his partner, Thomas Hitchcock, opened Cafe Italiano at the Buchanan Sweet Shop, 205 E. Front St., last month, much to the delight of the Buchanan community.

The new and improved sweets shop is currently open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and offers a variety of sweets and treats including Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream, local handmade and European import chocolates, candy, gourmet coffees, pastries, desserts, Italian sodas and more. The cafe recently added personal pizzas, soups, gelatos and sorbets to the menu and is in the process of adding hot and cold paninis and salads.

“It’s been great,” Paolucci said. “We’ve had a really good reception. This was a really good opportunity for us to open slowly, so we can get up to speed and learn how to operate our systems. We’re brand new to the restaurant business, so we wanted to do a soft opening, and it has been very successful. We’ve had a really good reception from the community, so we’re really pleased.”

While Cafe Italiano is Paolucci’s first foray into the restaurant business, he was inspired by his Italian upbringing to bring a piece of his culture to Buchanan.

“I was born in the U.S., but my family is from Italy,” he said. “I grew up in a very Italian family with a lot of good Italian food. We would drive from [Joliet, Illinois] into Chicago on the weekends to go to Italian delis. I’m very familiar with the food and the aesthetic, as are my twin sons.”

Paolucci and Hitchcock purchased the Buchanan Sweet Shop building four years ago. Built in 1867, the building became the Buchanan Sweet Shop in 1947 when the first floor was converted into a sweet shop with an art deco storefront.

“The building came up for sale and was adjacent to buildings we already owned,” Paolucci said. “It made sense because we love architecture, history and vintage antique furniture, and this had all of it. People have owned it, but maybe didn’t have the resources or vision to restore it. We had the ability and opportunity to do it. We felt comfortable taking on such a massive project.”

What ensued was a complete restoration project. With the exception of vintage aspects of the building including the fully restored original art deco liquid carbonic soda fountain bar from the 1930s, Paolucci said the entire space was renovated and brought up to speed.

“We removed two drop ceilings and restored the original 15-foot ceiling,” he said. “There is tons of light, and it’s beautiful inside. We basically redid the entire building from the roof to the basement.”

According to Paolucci, the customers appreciate the effort.

“The reception from the community has been fantastic,” he said. “This sweet shop has been in the community since 1947, so everyone that grew up here has memories of it and waited a long time for us to renovate it. They’re really happy with everything, so we’re pleased. … Being able to put something wonderful back in service for the community for everyone to enjoy for the next 100 years was really thrilling. It’s a fantastic building and a fantastic opportunity to put an exceptional property back into service for the community.”

Paolucci is looking forward to the spring and summer months and is working toward obtaining a liquor license. Once obtained, Paolucci aims to expand the cafe into 207 E. Front, the second of three buildings he owns on the block which also includes the Edward Jones building, 209 E. Front.

“We’re hoping to get a beer and wine license so that we can better serve the community,” he said. “If we get a license, we will look to expand next door and turn the cafe from a 40-seat cafe with one bathroom to an 80-seat cafe with two bathrooms and garden seating in the rear.”

In addition, Paolucci intends to install tables in front of his buildings for customers to use.

“I would like to introduce a sidewalk cafe experience for the community,” he said. “There is a lot of activity on Front Street these days — it’s the heart of our community. I think they would really enjoy being able to come down and enjoy what we have to offer outside.”

For Paolucci, Cafe Italiano is the latest way he is aiming to bring awareness to Buchanan.

“I want to help legitimize Buchanan in the eyes of potential families moving here,” he said. “Families are attracted to a town where things are changing and improving. We have a beautiful downtown, a good school system and a beautiful commons area with concerts in the summer. We have a lot going on in Buchanan and people are acknowledging that. … They love what we’ve done and they love what is happening downtown. It has restored pride to our community. If people have outside visitors coming — friends, family, etcetera — they have a place they can come to and say look what we have here in Buchanan. That’s really at the forefront of our minds.”