Free Press Interior

Free Press Coffee House/Wm. Watson Hotel & Cafe

In 2006, Jane Ann and Jonas Petty purchased the historic Mansion House, originally built in Pittsfield in 1838. What began as a restoration/renovation of the historic hotel evolved into much more.

The Pettys spent more than two years restoring the William Watson Hotel and originally planned to put a bar next door, but the best laid plans sometimes change. The couple purchased other downtown retail/commercial property, including next door to the hotel. Instead of a bar, Free Press Coffee House was born. The name pays homage to the former Pike County Free Press newspaper.

Jane Ann always enjoyed coffee and coffee shops and says it made sense to put one next door to the hotel as a destination for its visitors. After all, how hard could it be to open a coffee shop?

“I said I was opening a coffee shop,” says Jane Ann, “but I had no idea what that meant.”

Although she had no background in food service, Jane Ann learned hospitality while growing up in Springfield. Her parents loved to entertain, and it wasn’t unusual to have a houseful of people. She also traveled extensively with her grandparents.

Jane Ann credits the camaraderie of coffee roasters, and their interest in seeing small businesses thrive, for the success of Free Press Coffee House. The shop opened in 2014 next door to William Watson Hotel on the south side of the square across from the street from the Pike County Courthouse. It later opened a Springfield shop, now at the corner of MacArthur and South Grand.

“Our business model is called multi-roaster,” explains Jane Ann. “We use Kaldi’s and Blueprint Coffee from St. Louis and a couple of other small roasters. We don’t do the roasting ourselves. We receive shipments of beans twice a week and you’ll never find beans more than three weeks old on our shelves.”

The employees strive to create a memorable atmosphere that includes kindness, conversation and thoughtfulness. Jane Ann sees coffee shops as America’s new front porch and wants employees to foster that neighborly vibe.

“I have a knowledgeable staff and they pride themselves on understanding the coffees with their different taste notes, profiles and origins – similar to wine,” says Jane Ann. “That is always at the forefront of their minds; how we can best serve the coffee. It’s come such a long way for us to enjoy it and we feel responsible for the preparation. My staff is talented at pulling of shots, steaming the milk and all the different components. It’s an art form and they treat
it as such.”

It is evident in the lattes, cortados and espresso shots. The most popular coffee drinks are the honey vanilla latte and the chocolate milk cold brew. The honey is locally sourced, and they make their own vanilla from vanilla beans and vodka and mix it with the syrup.

If you aren’t a coffee drinker, they have you covered. The London Fog is a mixture of Italian grey tea with vanilla syrup and steamed milk. A variety of drinks are offered from matcha lattes, to fruit smoothies, hot chocolate and Italian sodas.

Menu items vary between the shops, and there are always four main baked goods lovingly made by Jane Ann – brown sugar encrusted banana bread, blueberry muffins made with sour cream, fruit streusel bars with blackberries and customer favorite brown butter chocolate chip cookies. There are also seasonal baked goods.

On the food side, the names of many menu items reflect the café’s newspaper vibe. Originally only serving bagels, Jane Ann listened to an idea to do sandwiches from Katie Eichler, the Springfield manager and she’s glad she did. Sandwiches are offered open to close.

The number one seller, which also happens to be Jane Ann’s favorite, is “The Classified,” a breakfast sandwich consisting of ham, eggs and homemade herb cream cheese on an everything bagel.

“Typeset Toast” is avocado toast on fresh bread with avocado, spring greens, egg, feta, red onion, tomato and sriracha aioli.

The “Interview” is built on an asiago bagel with ham, turkey, bell peppers, cheddar, Vidalia onion dressing and spring mix.

The “Column” has turkey, tomatoes, red onion and spring mix with herb cream cheese on sprouted wheat bread.

The “Typo” has turkey, tomato, an egg and avocado on gluten-free flatbread and, if bagels and lox are your thing, the “Quote” has lox, capers, cream cheese, tomato, red onion on a plain bagel.

“Above the Fold” is a vegetarian salad with an egg on top with tomato and avocado, chopped with spring mix, oil and vinegar. “Breaking News” is a bowl combination of eggs, turkey, green peppers, red onions, avocado and greens with Dijon mustard. They also offer a granola, fruit and yogurt bowl made with house baked granola.

During the pandemic shutdown, Jane Ann made the decision to temporarily close both locations. It gave her the opportunity to renovate the Pittsfield café to better serve the needs of the employees and customers.

In early June, it was announced in order to streamline business at the Pittsfield location, the café would reopen on June 26 as the William Watson Café, joining the hotel. According to a statement on Facebook, “The cafe will continue to offer specialty coffee, tea and all of your favorite beverages. The food menu will include your favorites and be expanding to include paninis, more salad options, and other great options for breakfast and lunch.”

The location in Springfield will remain the Free Press Coffee House. Just before the shutdown in March, the location had a patio poured and was able to open on May 29 for outdoor seating. The Pittsfield location has sidewalk seating and recently reopened as well. Times listed are as of June 1. Please reach out to the cafes or visit Facebook for updated hours.

Let’s EAT!

Illinois mapFree Press Coffee House
916 South Grand Avenue, Springfield
Wed.-Sun. 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

William Watson Café
107 East Washington, Pittsfield
Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sat.-Sun.

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