Supporting Small Business (Even When You’re Not So Small)

by Shelli Dankoff
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

In its simplest form, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center started as a small, “family” business when six Sisters came to Peoria from Iowa to care for the sick 137 years ago. While we aren’t so small anymore, OSF Saint Francis likes to support small, local businesses when the opportunity is right.

For instance, in OSF Marketplace gift shops, we sell fudge from Julie’s Corner Store in Lacon, flowers from Green Plantscapes in Peoria, popcorn from Pease’s in Springfield, yard ornaments from Oak Street Wholesale in Minonk, and candy from Burklund Distributors in Peoria. Even our magazines are stocked by M & M News, a LaSalle-based company!

When it comes to food for visitors and staff, there are three main options: Cafeteria Alternatives, which offers a wide selection in the main cafeteria and a separate express café in the Children’s Hospital building; a Subway franchise; and Don’s Bistro, which may actually be the ultimate small business success story.

Located in the Gerlach building, Don’s Bistro actually began as The Spotted Cow in 1996, when OSF Saint Francis worked with local business owner Frank Abdnour to offer another option for food. (It took over a space that used to be filled with vending machines—not always the healthiest option!) After a dozen years, Abdnour was looking for someone to help him manage the busy food stop, and potentially take over the business one day.

Don Lucas had been managing Schlotzky’s Deli in Peoria. When it closed, Lucas took Abdnour up on his offer and was hired to manage The Spotted Cow location at OSF Saint Francis in 2008. After four years, Abdnour decided he wanted to focus on his flagship location, and Don’s Bistro was born in January 2012, with Lucas becoming a new small business owner.

“I thought it was important to keep it locally owned; maybe somebody else will do the same for me one day and I can pass it on,” says Lucas. “Frank and I still talk all the time about how [Peoria] needs more small businesses. We offer the same concept, the same quality food, service and price as before, and people notice.” Lucas also thinks it’s important to buy local whenever possible. “I get my coffee from Leaves ‘N Beans, my food from Waugh Foods and GFS. I keep the menu simple and prices reasonable—I haven’t raised prices since I took over.”

Ten employees help keep Don’s Bistro open seven days a week, from breakfast at 7am until early evening with the predictability of what is served on the menu—from Italian beef and sandwiches to ice cream, specialty coffees and everything in between—drawing a steady flow of customers, many of them known by name to the staff.

“We have our daily specials, but we make the specials on any day if they’re asked for, because I think the people who come in here are special people.”

Lucas appreciates the opportunity given to him. “It’s a nice fit. The Sisters know someone has got to start somewhere and they’ve given me that opportunity. That’s what I love about Saint Francis. I love what I do—I have a passion for this. I get up and want to come to work.” iBi

Shelli Dankoff is the senior media relations specialist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

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