Our introduction to the food business began in 1991 when John and Yvette Bilanko renovated some historic property in Barrington, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and opened Yvette’s Espresso Bar. The idea was to create a European-style cafe serving great Italian espresso and simple, freshly prepared food where everyone was welcome, like the neighborhood bars and restaurants they remembered growing up in Chicago.
What started as a 600 sq. ft. espresso bar quickly evolved into a 2,600 sq. ft. café with 18 employees, 100 seats and an outdoor patio that became the gathering place for everyone in the community. With the help of some graduate students from the University of Illinois they developed recipes for all-natural, easy to bake scones, muffins and biscuits that soon became the cafe’s signature items. As the popularity of the pastries grew we created a line of packaged mixes for home bakers, retail shops and cafes around the country.
By 1998, with three daughters in college and the fourth about to go, John and Yvette decided it was time for a change. So, to the surprise of their friends and families, they sold everything except the recipes, packed their bags and moved to California.
Santa Cruz seemed like the logical choice. Two of their daughters were students at UC Santa Cruz, there were plenty of students and tourists to support a bigger and better café and the geography and weather were spectacular. Since California was already a leader in the artisan food movement, with an abundance of locally grown, high quality ingredients, they thought it would be an ideal place set up shop.
While searching for a new location for the cafe they focused on expanding their line of mixes, sourcing artisan flour from a family-owned miller in San Francisco, Blenheim apricots (the finest on the market) from a family farm in Hollister and other ingredients from local sources who have become trusted suppliers for more than seventeen years. By April, 2000 their efforts were starting to pay off. The scones were featured on the “O List” in the premier issue of Oprah’s magazine; in July they earned an award in the Outstanding Baked Goods category from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) the industry's leading trade organization; and by the following January the Chicago Tribune declared that Iveta mixes produced a "proper" scone that could be served with pride to company.
Over the years the business continued to grow and in 2004 our scones were recognized, for a second time, by the NASFT in their product awards competition, something no other baking mix has achieved and in 2006 our muffins were awarded the $10,000 grand prize in the food competition held at "America's Best Food Show" in Anaheim, CA. By 2009 distribution was expanding throughout the country, new flavors were added, a gluten-free line was introduced and we began importing English jams, curds and clotted cream to compliment our baked goods.
To accommodate the growth of the business we moved to the up-and-coming Westside of Santa Cruz, tripled our production space and in 2010 finally opened our new cafe. Although it took more than ten years to re-introduce our cafe, it was worth the wait. The intervening years gave us time to perfect our recipes, develop a great network of suppliers and gather the knowledge and experience necessary to succeed in a very competitive industry.
The success of our Westside cafe created an opportunity to open a second, larger, cafe on the campus of UC Santa Cruz. The campus Cafe also features simple, freshly prepared food, Italian style espresso, craft beer and wine from sustainable, local producers. We're also helping the University meet it's environmental goals by composting and using new energy saving appliances and lighting with a state of the art daylight harvesting system.
Now, after seventeen years in California, we are proud of the fact that the family business has survived and thrived, through good times and bad, while becoming accepted as part of the Santa Cruz community and staying true to our original goals of producing easy, all-natural artisan baking mixes and serving simple, fresh food, without pretense.