As a tray of kolaczki cookies is pulled out of the oven, the sweet aroma promising a taste of yummy goodness, a young Suzie Bigott hears the first whispers of her calling in life. She watches as her grandma and aunt cook and bake, learning their methods and enjoying the warmth of their company. That same warmth is now poured into the cooking and baking at Suzie’s Cafe in Valparaiso.
A Chicago suburb native, Bigott moved to Valparaiso when her husband’s job transferred him to the area. At the time, she was a stay-at-home mom, caring for her four young girls and several other neighborhood children.
“I was always baking cookies and cooking lunch and dinner, and I just always loved to cook and bake. I figured I would make a career out of it someday,” she recalled.
Bigott decided to start a catering company to take her culinary love to the next level. Word spread about her delicious food and the demand for more grew, allowing Bigott to open her cafe.
“We started on Washington Street with 1,000 square feet and 10 tables, and we stayed there for eight years,” Bigott said. “The growth was just phenomenal, people would wait outside to get a table even in the winter, so we knew that we had to grow. I waited until I had enough money and then we built the current building we’re in. We’ve expanded twice and our business just keeps growing and growing.”
The growth that Bigott has experienced throughout the years is not just because her food is delicious, but because she takes extra measures to ensure her guests feel special.
“I think it’s just the personal touches, taking an interest in people’s lives, sending flowers to someone when they’ve lost a loved one, taking a meal to someone you haven’t seen in a while, running soup to a regular we haven’t seen for a few days,” she said. “I like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with my guests, when it’s not too busy, and sit and talk to them.”
Bigott’s faith, passed down from her grandmother, is something she attributes her success to as well.
“When I started my business around 24 years ago, my grandmother gave me her picture of the last supper, and it’s been hanging in the dining room of the restaurant since the day I opened,” she said. “My grandmother raised me, so she was really special to me and she told me to always put God first in your business and you’ll always be successful. To this day I almost cry when I think of her saying that to me because it’s so true.”
Bigott uses success to give back to others both globally and locally. Part of the profits from Suzie’s Cafe support the Oasis Home in Guatemala, a Kids Alive International safe-home for girls. She also supports many local charities, like Folds of Honor, through donated catering.
“I think vets are some of the bravest people in the world. They gave so much just so we can enjoy our freedoms. Any time somebody can do something for a vet it’s wonderful,” she said. “I don’t think we turn down anybody that comes and asks for a donation, whether it’s for a cancer walk or a little league team. I definitely feel like, to be part of the community, you have to continually give back. Those are the people that keep us busy all year round.”
It’s important for Bigott to show her appreciation to patrons who have supported her throughout the years and one of the ways she does that is through her annual Christmas Party where she opens the cafe to the public and connects with her customers.
“We love it. It’s our time to sit and visit with customers and get to know them better. And it’s another way to give back to the people that keep us busy all year long,” Bigott said.
Suzie’s Cafe is a second home for many people and a family-run business. Bigott is grateful for the opportunity to work with two of her four daughters.
“It’s wonderful to work with my daughters. We’re all of the same mindset, we do things the same way and have the same goals and work ethic,” she said. “We can count on each other. They know the business inside and out. I could retire tomorrow if I wanted to and things would be just fine.”
And she gets to see her other two daughters plenty as they all live within miles, if not blocks, of each other. This also means Bigott gets to see her six grandkids frequently. And, of course, Bigott is passing down her love of cooking and baking to the next generation.
“Every time they come over, we have a tradition of baking cookies and having a tea party once the cookies come out of the oven,” she said.
When Bigott isn’t working at the restaurant or with her family, she’s enjoying time with her husband and her two Maltipoo puppies, Milo and Charlie. They can often be found walking through their neighborhood or riding their bikes. She also enjoys traveling with her husband and their friends.
Bigott still makes those kolaczki cookies, remembering that love and warmth passed down and praying for a bright future for her own children and grandchildren.
“Every time I’m rolling out that dough, I think about the times that I used to do that as a kid with my aunts and grandma. It gives me hope that, when I’m long gone, my kids will take some of these memories and think about all of the years we worked together and got to spend time together,” Bigott said.
You can currently support Suzie’s Cafe by placing a pick-up order. The Cafe is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.