Zion Coffee Bar was among the first businesses to take a chance on Downtown’s Warehouse District
Asked to describe Zion Coffee Bar, employee Kaitlyn Lucas didn’t hesitate.
“It’s a modern minimalist space with craft coffee, homemade syrup, and a really good simple toast menu,” she said. “Everything has a lot of love and intention put into it.”
Coffee culture is a unique experience around the world, but America stands out as one of the few countries that prefers its coffee to go. However, Peoria’s indie coffee houses are working to change minds on that score, one cup at a time.
‘We partner with small coffee farms and local farmers for a lot’
“It’s a different experience than grabbing your coffee through the drive-through,” said owner Savannah Hatten. “It’s a chance to take a pause in the morning and just talk to the baristas about what’s happening in their lives.”
Nestled in the Warehouse District, across the street from Dozer Park, Zion doesn’t sport a drive-through. The shop blends old architecture with simple furniture to offer a modern but homey aesthetic. A red brick accent wall and dark-rimmed windows are a contrast to the white walls and pale wooden tables that surround a centralized coffee bar. Potted plants make the space comfortable for students, business people and downtown residents who make up the shop’s usual clientele.
Zion began three years before it even had a dedicated space to serve customers. Original owners Banu and Mike Hatfield were full-time Caterpillar employees when they started selling bags of coffee at pop-up shops and farmers’ markets. They traveled to Guatemala and Nicaragua to connect with the farmers whose beans they sourced. In 2017, they opened the current location at 803 SW Adams as a natural extension of that original business.
In 2021 the Hatfields wanted to go in a different life direction and approached former employees Savannah Hatten and Jared Jensen about purchasing Zion. Hatten recalls being hesitant at first.
“I wasn’t out shopping for businesses. I think that combination of already having experience working here and being a manager here was huge. I cared for what they had built with Zion, and having the opportunity to carry out and further something that was already special to me made it feel right.”
The Hatfields made another trip to Guatemala in 2018, this time with Hatten and Jensen in tow.
“That was really powerful,” Hatten said. “Coffee is one of those things that doesn’t grow here, so it feels so far removed. All we know is there are the beans. We grind them. We put them in a cup. To see the other side, the families working so hard … was really beautiful and really, really amazing to see.”
Hatten and Jensen both have extensive experience in the hospitality industry, so they focus on creating experiences for customers and employees alike. That means letting employees showcase talents unrelated to coffee. Zion stickers and shirts are made by a former employee who is passionate about graphic design, and the plant displays are maintained by a barista who enjoys gardening. Recently, Lucas’s baking has been on display, supplementing the pastries Zion receives from Ardor Breads & Provisions. The ICC Culinary School graduate worked at a local farm before returning to coffee culture and said that experience fed her love for sourcing local ingredients and sharing seasonal flavors.
All of Peoria’s indie coffee shops are good at providing unique flavors from around the world, said Hatten. Each delivers a different taste experience. Zion’s offerings fit with the Warehouse District’s energy and innovative environment, she said.
“We partner with small coffee farms. That means something to us. We also partner with local farms for a lot of the ingredients for the toppings that you’ll see on our food menu or in our drink menu. Our black currant jam comes from the black currants at a local farm. We try to create unique flavors, things that are fun and fresh that people haven’t seen in a coffee shop before.”
The baristas are a crucial part of that experience. Coffee and tea terminology can be overwhelming, so Zion’s staff discusses coffee flavor notes in simple terms that any customer can understand. While they strive to get people to try something new, they know that customers want to avoid purchasing something they won’t enjoy. Don’t like it? They’ll replace it with a favorite.
The Warehouse District does bring challenges for small businesses. Parking is limited, and customer traffic patterns can be unpredictable depending on what else is happening Downtown. However, Hatten says the benefits of the community far outweigh any difficulties.
“It represents what Peoria is headed for. There are a lot of local business owners in this area that try to work together. Pretty much everything down here in this warehouse district and on the waterfront is locally owned, so there are a lot of unique businesses,” she said.
“I feel lucky to be down here in this area of Peoria that’s constantly moving and evolving. I’m excited to be here.”