The most unique coffee shop in Peoria County may not be found in its central city, which is blessed with an abundance of coffee and venues that percolate the stuff.
But if you journey 12 miles west to the town of Hanna City, population 1,250, you’ll find a striking structure—a blend of steel and glass in brick red and black called the Coffee Can Bistro.
If the place has a boxy air to it,
that’s because it’s
constructed out of
nine shipping containers
If the place has a boxy air to it, that’s because it’s been constructed out of nine shipping containers. That’s right, those rectangular metal boxes that hold all the stuff made overseas that we wind up ordering online.
After Ron Gulley, the former owner of an HVAC business in the Quad Cities, moved to the Peoria area, he took ownership of a strip mall in Hanna City where he hatched his idea for a coffee shop, stacking and restacking miniature containers in his basement until he came up with a design.
He saw a benefit in shipping containers while realizing the novelty involved. Then it was a matter of acquiring what he needed.
“There’s a container broker just an hour and a half west of here,” he said, referring to USA Containers in Warren County.
“Some things changed,” he said in regards to the design. But overall, he felt he had what he wanted. “I used the ‘Field of Dreams’ approach: ‘If I build it, they will come,’” he said.
Gulley, 60, brought on two partners, Matt Fick and Justin Ball. The former has worked in the economic development arena in both Peoria Heights and Delavan, and he saw in the Coffee Can Bistro the potential to “jumpstart economic development in Hanna City.”
Of course, there was more to that than the imaginative arrangement of shipping containers and the acquisition of bags of coffee beans. A coffee shop in a rural community needs a drive-thru, Gulley decided. That meant acquiring additional land. A house was purchased adjacent to the property and torn down to accommodate more cars. A ravine was filled in.
Then there was the little matter of disposing of discarded fuel tanks that were found on the site. “We had to go down 21 feet to remove the dirt,” said Gulley.
‘A COFFEE SHOP IS A COOL PLACE
– Ron Gulley
After the dust settled, COVID-19 hit. The pandemic had an immediate impact on the Coffee Can, recalled Gulley, who saw it as just one more challenge to overcome.
He knew the importance of being located on Illinois State Route 116, the road that runs through Hanna City. The state’s daily traffic count at that location was 14,000 vehicles, a number that dropped to 8,000 by the time the Coffee Can was open for business, he said.
Open since November 2021, Gulley called business good but said “we’ve still got a long way to go.”
One thing he’s learned since opening is that “people want food. We’re more of a fast casual restaurant now,” said Gulley, touting his Nashville chicken sandwich as an example. That’s a dish with hot (as in peppery hot) chicken tenders with Monterey Jack cheese and pickles between two Belgian waffles. “Two people can make a meal of it,” he said.
While the post-COVID worker shortage has not been a problem for Gulley, inflation has left its mark. “We haven’t had to raise food prices yet but we’re going to have to. My monthly electric bill went from $600 to $1,400,” he said.
What hasn’t changed is that “it’s a cool environment,” he said. “A coffee shop is a cool place to work.”
On closer inspection, what you notice first about the Coffee Can is the size of the place. This isn’t your three-tables-and-a-counter type of coffee shop. “We have 42 chairs downstairs and 62 on the deck with 20 in the upstairs lounge,” Gulley said. That doesn’t count two little balconies, each with four chairs.
All that room can hold a lot of coffee. It also allows for the free flow of ideas. “I want to bring in artists who could set up a table and show their wares, woodwork, that sort of thing,” said Gulley, motioning to one of the tables in the upstairs lounge.
A block down from the Coffee Can is the town’s landmark, Gil’s Supper Club, a restaurant where fried chicken has drawn hungry diners from all over central Illinois since 1962. Now Gulley is hoping that his establishment might develop into an attraction all its own.
Coffee Can Bistro
- Address: 224 N. 2nd St, Hanna City, IL 61536
- Drinks: Coffee, tea, chai tea, bubble tea, espresso, hot chocolate
- Menu: breakfast, lunch and dinner items
- M-F, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Sat., 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Sun., 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Website: www.coffeecan.coffee