Other than the signage and strip center location, there’s little about the Sweet Bean Coffee Cafe that resembles a commercial operation. Unlike its ubiquitous corporate coffee competitors, Sweet Bean is a locally owned and operated original.
Its comfortable, eclectic decor makes it feel more like a home than a business, as does its location. Some may remember Sweet Bean from its previous setting in the Sam’s Club Plaza, where it opened 15 years ago. According to current owner David Frame, the cafe was Fort Myers’ first coffee shop. Although Sweet Bean developed a loyal customer base there, business has been decidedly more robust since the move.
Now in its third year in the Design Center Plaza, next to the Melting Pot on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers, the cafe enjoys a steady stream of customers from nearby residential neighborhoods and local businesses. According to Frame, some of the regulars stop by twice a day to grab a cup of their favorite brew or something freshly made to eat.
For many, it’s a preferred place to socialize with friends or network electronically via Sweet Bean’s free Wi-Fi access. Others simply seek respite from their busy day in a tranquil atmosphere, which the cafe goes to great lengths to provide. To ensure that it stays that way, the cafe does not offer high chairs or other kid-friendly accoutrements, and patrons are strongly encouraged to leave their little ones at home.
In all other ways, however, Sweet Bean is extremely accommodating. Frame and his staff of three know most customers by name and are quick to suggest menu items to first-time guests. Comfy seating and pleasant service are conducive to relaxing over a sandwich, cup of coffee or tea, or piece of cake.
Despite its diminutive square footage, the restaurant offers an impressive selection of food and drink, all of which are prepared on site and served fresh for breakfast and lunch. Prices for most items average $7-$9; side dishes range from $1.25 – $2.50.
For breakfast, diners may choose from Corned Beef Hash, Raisin Bread French Toast and numerous egg dishes such as Crustless Quiche (loaded with fresh broccoli and three types of cheese) and a scrambled egg Breakfast Sandwich. There are also Omelets galore (available yolk-free for $1.50 more), served with a grilled English muffin and a choice of fresh fruit or golden hash browns.
The quiche is also featured on the lunch menu that has a sandwich to suit any taste. Choices range from chilled “salad” sandwiches — Craisin Chicken, Old-Fashioned Tuna, Crab and Deviled Egg — to slow-cooked BBQ Beef or Chicken, homemade Meatloaf, Grilled Turkey Club and more. Each is served either on a bagel, toasted croissant, multi-grain bread or Sweet Bean’s made-to-order Jamaican coco bread, similar to a pita but slightly sweeter.
All sandwiches come with a choice of fresh fruit, pasta salad, cucumber and tomato salad, or a cup of homemade soup. Due to customer demand, Sweet Bean offers just two soups: tomato basil and hearty chicken vegetable. Flavorful and always fresh, both are made daily and served by the cup or bowl.
Of course, brewed beverages take center stage at Sweet Bean, which offers a broad selection of hot or iced drinks, including green tea, espresso, cappuccino, Cuban coffee and breve, to name a few. (For the uninitiated, breve is much like a traditional latte, only richer, as it is made with steamed half-and-half cream instead of milk.)
In all, Sweet Bean carries 25 different flavored and foreign beans roasted locally to ensure freshness, and sold by the pound or cup, depending on the day. Three selections are featured daily at the coffee bar, two brewed and one flavored. Coffee drinkers may also add a flavor to their regular coffee for an additional 50 cents.
Toffee Coffee is Sweet Bean’s signature drink, although the name belies its essence. The best-selling brew is a delightful concoction with only a hint of toffee and just the right amount of sweetness. Whipped cream certainly gilds this lily, but makes indulging all the more delicious.
Speaking of which, it is imperative to try Sweet Bean’s homemade cakes, which are available by the slice or in their irresistible entirety. The by-the-piece selection varies and may include coconut, chocolate fudge, lemon and/or pumpkin, which is emerging as Sweet Bean’s most popular dessert. With all of them, one bite usually leads to another and another, until the last fabulous crumb has vanished.
As with most of the cafe’s cakes, the pumpkin cake is a top-secret Frame family recipe that is so closely guarded, Frame bakes all the confections himself. In fact, for Thanksgiving last year, he spent three consecutive days filling 140 orders just for pumpkin cakes. That’s remarkable when you consider that Sweet Bean’s only advertising is by word of mouth.
Besides personal service and great coffee, Sweet Bean has another novel way to bring patrons back for more. For just $25, a customer can buy an entire thermos of coffee that yields a baker’s dozen of 12-ounce cups. The price includes a bag of fresh, whipped cream and the thermos, which they can return the following day. Incidentally, the whipped cream goes well with the homemade cake, which you definitely won’t be returning if it’s from Sweet Bean.
(Sweet Bean Coffee Cafe is open daily for breakfast and lunch in the Design Center Plaza at 13251 McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. Hours are from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from
7 a.m. until 2 p.m. both weekend days. Breakfast only on Sunday. Available for private parties after hours. Phone: 239-482-0480.)