Breathing Life into an Historic Building
The building at 1311 SW Adams Street is home to four businesses anchoring the southern end of Peoria’s historic Warehouse District.
When Raphael and Katie Couri Rodolfi purchased the F. Meyer Block Building on Adams Street in 2017, they acquired a little slice of Peoria history. Built in 1885 as Meyer Hardware, the structure has seen its share of tenants over nearly 135 years, weathering economies good and bad. Having set up their own ventures in the building—alongside a pair of other businesses—the Rodolfis are in it for the long haul.
The entrepreneurial couple has longed to open shop in Peoria, initially setting their sights on finding a location along West Main Street near their home. When they couldn’t find the right space for their needs, they expanded their search to the Warehouse District.
“We really liked everything that was happening down here. The city had redone the streets, making it more pedestrian-friendly. Sugar [Wood-Fired Bistro] was established and Zion [Coffee Bar] was moving in,” Katie recalls. “So all of that felt more like ‘city life.’ We lived in Chicago for a number of years, and Paris on and off, so we appreciate pedestrian-friendly cities and all the joy that can come with that.”
The addition of rehabbed loft apartments within walking distance—including Cooperage 214, Winkler Lofts and Persimmon Lofts—also sealed their resolve to put their roots downtown. Shortly after purchasing the building, Raphael moved his video production company, Videogenique, into one of the open office spaces. “The structure has a lot of character, which is 100 percent what we love about it,” he explains. While his large, open space on the first floor remains largely unchanged, he quickly went to work updating the other spaces to accommodate potential tenants. “We made mostly cosmetic changes like painting, tearing out old carpet and replacing acoustic ceiling tiles with metal tiles. It made a huge difference.”
Expanding the Offerings
In January 2018, WAXology in the wHAIRhouse relocated to the storefront facing Adams Street, and in June, Hannah Ramlo opened Soulside Healing Arts in the rear of the building, offering yoga and holistic wellness classes.
“Visitors often express surprise at the beauty and warmth of the space,” Ramlo notes. “They comment on the original architectural materials, like the exposed brick and tin tile ceilings.” The space also includes a loft, where she often works on her laptop when she isn’t teaching, as well as the original walk-in safe used to store materials.
The only space left to fill was in the building’s front corner. That’s where Katie Couri Rodolfi opened her specialty grocery store, Sous Chef, last October—filling a critical need in the downtown food desert. Not only does the shop offer locally-sourced produce and meat, it features homemade takeout items like fresh salads, hummus snack-packs, baked bread and tarts, as well as entrees like chicken pot pie and meatballs with mozzarella. “We are a small operation,” she explains, “so we can keep a tight handle on inventory and stock only what we know we can sell to cut down on waste.” In addition to maintaining low prices, Sous Chef has set itself apart by accommodating its customers’ special dietary needs and requests.
All of the businesses can be accessed from the inside of the building, and customers from one will often flow into another. “After a yoga class at Soulside, someone may wander over to Sous Chef to grab a snack or get something for dinner,” Raphael notes. “There’s a nice synergy among the businesses here.”
“We love working out of the same space as the Rodolfis,” Ramlo affirms. “As small business owners themselves, they understand the grind and struggles we face. We feel lucky to be part of this space and part of a growing community of businesses in the Warehouse District.”
Sous Chef is a specialty grocery store featuring local farmers and vendors; fresh, seasonal vegetables, meats and baked goods; and prepared meals.
Partnering for Progress
Collaborating with nearby businesses has also been fruitful in attracting customers. For instance, Sous Chef hosts “Quiche & Coffee” every Sunday, pairing coffee from nearby Zion with Katie’s homemade quiche and muffins—or whatever she happens to be making that morning.
The Big Picture Festival, an outdoor arts festival which launched last fall, was another opportunity to bring together the growing community in Peoria’s Warehouse District. While Raphael captured the day’s events on film, Katie and her crew set up a grill outside and cooked food for attendees. “That was a big success, because a lot of people came out and participated in the artmaking events,” she notes, adding that building awareness of their business offerings is a challenge. “A grocery store is a step toward meeting people's needs, but we're not a large operation. We are trying to work with our close, local providers and meet consumers’ needs by offering them the things they want. It’s going to be a fine line to walk.”
As such, she is intent on growing the business slowly and methodically, building loyalty through personal connections. “We’re not everybody’s grocery store, but we do want to make a good first impression before we have a huge [promotional] push,” Katie explains. “We want to have a little more variety.”
Sous Chef owner Katie Couri Rodolfi, middle, flanked by brother Patrick Couri and sister Sarah Couri.
They also want to make a positive difference for local food producers, Raphael adds. “The idea is that good food is produced locally and we can reduce our carbon footprint by not importing food from the different coasts. We go with local awesomeness as much as possible!”
Under its new owners, the historic F. Meyer Block Building is once again buzzing with activity, anchoring the southern end of the Warehouse District. The Rodolfis are energized and excited about the prospects of their burgeoning business ventures. “We're pacing ourselves at this point… we're not rushing anything,” Katie notes. “We are here to stay, and we want to enjoy the ride.” iBi