SoHo Sweets brings Troost coffee and vision to cafe and creamery in historic South Holland home
By Ashlee De Wit
SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (September 4, 2021) – When Troost, the Lansing coffee shop, closed its doors in the spring of 2020, it left a latte-sized hole in the hearts of many local residents. Now, fans of the former cafe can find some solace in owner Renae Fentress’ new venture, SoHo Sweets, which recently opened in neighboring South Holland.
“An unconventional project”
Fentress and the Village of South Holland staff cut the ribbon on the town’s new creamery and cafe on August 19. Fentress has wanted to reinvent Troost ever since she closed it, and SoHo Sweets presented her with an opportunity to do just that, while working in a unique partnership with the Village of South Holland.
“This is an unconventional project — municipalities generally don’t start businesses like this, so it’s a unique approach,” said J Wynsma, South Holland’s Village Administrator, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The Village owns the building that houses SoHo Sweets, and Fentress is the owner/operator of the business. Officials from South Holland approached Fentress with the idea, inviting her to join them in their vision for the location.
“It’s been great working in partnership with the village,” Fentress said. “They had a very clear vision of what they wanted and they executed it perfectly. They are a bunch of dreamers here, and I got to join in on a dream that already had so much momentum. This place [SoHo Sweets] really did take a village — so many people poured their heart and soul into this place.”
From Troost to SoHo
The process of opening the new business was very different than when she opened Troost.
“At Troost, I learned a lot on the go,” Fentress said. “This time, I went in with a lot more clarity, knowledge, and skill, and a refined business model. I’m thankful for Troost, and I’m proud of it. Everything there was homemade. My dad made the counters, my mom and I stayed up late repainting hand-me-down chairs from the Lansing library. Troost had a really good heart, and I tried to make sure that the heart of Troost carried over — but in a way that looks like South Holland.”
“At Troost, I was proud because we did everything,” she added. “With this, I’m proud that I was chosen. It was very much an honor.”
It was her reputation from her work at Troost that got Fentress invited into SoHo Sweets.
“We knew she had a successful coffee shop, and she knew how to operate that kind of business,” said Julia Huisman, Director of Communications, Branding, and Marketing for the Village of South Holland. “We also knew she had a good following — people who were really dedicated [to Troost], so we figured that would be a good place to start. When we invited her in, it turned out to be a match made in heaven. She was on board with our vision from the get-go.”
The vision for SoHo Sweets, Huisman said, is a place for people from the community to gather.
“It’s such a cool place,” Huisman said. “We’re already seeing it on weekend nights, on hot week days: people are sitting on the swings [in the park next door]; they’re out on the patio. It’s bringing people together.”
The SoHo Sweets vision
Fentress found it easy to buy into the Village’s vision.
“[South Holland Village officials] have really restored my faith in public servants,” Fentress said. “They are proud to be here, proud of this community. I want the people who work here to be proud to work here, to be proud to be from South Holland. One of the best compliments I’ve heard from a customer was, ‘I don’t even have to go to Homewood anymore!’”
Customers shouldn’t go into SoHo Sweets expecting an exact replica of Troost. Though a few things have been carried over, the Troost brand has been officially retired.
“The brand and I grew up together, but I’ve changed,” Fentress said.
Still, there are some remnants. Troost fans looking for a familiar flavor can try the re-branded SoHo House Blend (formerly Troost Roast) from Smalltown Coffee, and order the SoHo House Latte (which they may know as the Troosty).
A whole new aspect for Fentress is the ice cream side of the shop. SoHo Sweets serves eight flavors from Sherman’s Dairy Bar, a supplier that Fentress chose personally. She grew up making trips to South Haven, Michigan, where the ice cream business is based, and thought the brand would resonate with others as well.
Along with ice cream and coffee, SoHo Sweets serves breakfast and lunch bites. Food is made by Chef Arica Jackson Morgan, a caterer with a culinary degree from Kendall College.
“She’s generous, over qualified, and from South Holland!” Fentress said.
The shop’s manager, Cecilia Harris, is also from South Holland. She’s a former manager of the Nutella Cafe on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
“Having a manager is a game-changer,” Fentress said.
Most of the baristas at SoHo Sweets are local residents as well.
“I have one employee who came over from Troost, but everyone else, I tried to hire from the community,” Fentress said.
Fentress, who’s a resident of Munster, has connections with, and family roots in, the South Holland community herself. Two doors down from SoHo Sweets is a building that was a home, and then a shoe store, owned by her relatives for generations. Currently, Fentress’ husband, Andrew Fentress, is the Assistant Principal of Calvin Christian School, located just a few blocks away from the home of SoHo Sweets.
“Home” in this sense is literal — the creamery and cafe is in a former residence and includes a front porch, main level where the ice cream and coffee are served, an upstairs sitting room, a basement kitchen, and even a patio in the yard, complete with bean bag games and a fire pit.
SoHo Sweets is located at 16129 South Park Avenue in South Holland. The creamery and cafe is open from 6:30 a.m. – 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.