Brothers Create New Sensation
Continuing the trend of new places to call a destination in downtown Peoria, C’est Si Bon opened in the Hamilton Square Building in October 2001, and if things go as planned, the owners hope to expand to other locations throughout Illinois.
Jason and Jon Steffens, along with their father, are the owners of Eckerts/Steffens Inc. Their business began with Eckert’s Fine Dining and has expanded to include coffee and specialty drink shops, including C’est Si Bon in Peoria.
"My background has been mostly non-business related," said Jon. After two years of college, he joined the Army and served for almost eight years. He became a private contractor for the U.S. government in Washington, D.C., working as a language analyst.
He spent about 10 years living throughout Europe and other parts of the world. "This is how I developed a passion for foods. After leaving the government I came back to Illinois to join the family business, which had been started while I was away. My brother, Jason, and our parents, Larry and Bette, founded Eckerts/Steffens Inc. which owns commercial and residential properties, as well as an interior design studio," Jon said.
"After receiving my associate’s degree from Lincoln College, I began a series of different ventures," said Jason.
While working for Mitsubishi, he got involved in real estate development in the Lincoln area. Their father was also employed at Mitsubishi and after nine years of factory work, was looking for a change. They pooled their resources, mortgaged their houses, cleaned out their savings, and started Eckerts/Steffens Inc. A multi – divisional holding company featuring luxury downtown apartments, a Victorian interior design studio, a bed and breakfast, a wine and specialty coffee shop, a gourmet French and Italian restaurant featuring six course, price-fixed menus with more than 130 different wines by the bottle.
In 1998, Jon joined the company and Eckert’s Fine Dining was born.
In May 2000, Jon and Jason created Grapes & Grounds, a specialty coffee and wine shop offering a wide variety of espresso-based drinks, as well as wines by the glass and the bottle. The concept was a success, and they decided to expand to the outlying areas surrounding Lincoln. Due to the rigidity a liquor license demands, they decided to streamline their out-of-town cafés to incorporate gourmet coffees, pastries, desserts, sandwiches and soups. "A new name was needed. One promoting something different, something of a higher quality. A French café needs a French name, right? C’est Si Bon!, meaning it’s so good, the name of the old song rang true for us, and the café’s now had a name," said Jason.
They scouted downtown Bloomington and found a spot at 116 West Washington Street, right across the street from the courthouse. They opened in February 2001 and have been extremely pleased with the response. " We draw from the business climate there, as well as some walk-in due to the retail found in downtown Bloomington. With the Bloomington store being our first out-of-town venture, Jon and I had a lot of growing pains to endure," said Jason.
Staffing in a college town, inventory in a new market, and logistics taught the brothers quickly how to identify issues, deal with them quickly, and create a process so it didn’t happen again. With the success of the Bloomington store, they decided to move ahead to a downtown Peoria location. "After spending a few afternoons exploring downtown, our realtor informed us of a great spot opening on Hamilton Boulevard. We signed some papers, remodeled, and opened at 300 Hamilton Boulevard October 1, 2001. Jon and I have had a lot of fun serving our customers, and more are finding us every day," said Jason.
What’s next? In addition to scouting for a second Peoria location, they are opening "Capone’s" a 1920s prohibition-era style restaurant and jazz lounge featuring live jazz every Saturday, as well as open mike nights and comedy. The grand opening was February 1. Their goal is to create six more "C’est Si Bon!" cafes over the next four years. IBI