Chicago’s favorite breakfast, est. 1999

Insights from Laurene Hynson, Sweet Maple Cafe (Little Italy)

Laurene Hynson has been running Sweet Maple Cafe for 18 years now. It’s a Chicago staple, and it’s easy to see why:

“my goal is to make people feel like someone who loves them made them breakfast.”

The love comes through in the breakfast made from scratch. Laurene has been serving the same food since 1999. Same butter, same pure maple syrup, same bacon. *see below*

She had always wanted a restaurant, and Laurene signed the lease on Sweet Maple when she had a three-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. As she says, it was a “mommy-venture”. She set up the business on her own terms, closing at 2PM everyday so that she could pick them up from school. At the beginning, occupying tables was a lot of work. They celebrated when they had their first $1,000 weekend. There were days where they only sold $150 worth of food. Now, the place spills over with people on the weekend waiting for a table.

And those people have found a home at Sweet Maple. Laurene has created a community of long-time loyal customers. She laughs,

“what I love about this place, I think, is that now the kids who were in high chairs when I opened the restaurant bring their dates to Sweet Maple…it’s so funny.”

Some regulars are more serious about it than others:

“some people can say, you know, I wore the paint off the floor in this spot because this is where I always sit.”

Her employees are just as loyal. The average length of service for her employees is 14 years. The guy who runs her kitchen has been with Sweet Maple since before their opening, and he employs family in the kitchen. Laurene has servers who started working at Sweet Maple in college, it’s right off of UIC’s campus, and are now employed elsewhere who still come into work once or twice a month just to see each other; they grew up together. And kids who grew up coming to Sweet Maple ask for jobs, and former employees going through tough times or suddenly laid off “know that they can always come back” to Sweet Maple. Laurene calls herself a “surrogate mom in some ways” and prides herself on how much her servers make — the customers know them and have watched them grow up too:

“They have college funds, they’ve paid off their student loans, they’ve bought homes, they’ve bought cars, they’ve done all kinds of things with their Sweet Maple money.”

While Laurene continues to run her bustling breakfast, brunch, and lunch spot, she also supports fellow female entrepreneurs in every way she knows how, especially as a consumer. She gave me an example:

“I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B, and my husband saw it on our kitchen counter last night, he said ‘did you buy it at Costco? They had it on discount’…. I said no, I went to the Magic Tree and bought it from a woman-owned business… because I know Rose.”

So there you have it. The upward spiral for women in business continues because of women like Laurene supporting women like Rose. You can be a part of it too. Now that you know Laurene, check out the warm and inviting space she’s created at Sweet Maple. (The home fries are pretty warm and inviting too.)

📍1339 W Taylor St.

Sam Letscher