SYCAMORE - If someone were to write a biography of Shawn Thrower, it might be titled, “From Baskets to Bagels, Aguirre to McCartney.” Whether he’s playing against former professional basketball players or serving famous rock stars, the Sycamore businessman has led an interesting life.
A basketball star for Carver High School on the south side of Chicago, the 6-foot, 7-inch Thrower played forward for the Northern Illinois University men’s basketball team from 1977-81. When a tryout with the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t pan out, Thrower turned down a chance to play basketball overseas to go into business.
After 10 years as manager at Molly’s Eatery & Drinkery in DeKalb, Thrower opened Shawn’s Coffee Shop and Gourmet Deli at 204 Somonauk St. in Sycamore. Serving such colorfully named sandwiches as the Somonauk Express, the Courthouse Blues, and Chickie Wickie, Shawn’s quietly celebrated its 20th anniversary July 14. The family, including Thrower’s wife, Lori, daughter Alex, 22, and son Max, 15, recently opened Princess Alex’s Ice Cream Shop next door to the coffee shop.
Between baking 400 bagels a day and managing a staff of 10, Thrower spent a few minutes talking to MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson last week.
Oleson: Isn’t Carver High School a pretty esteemed high school, sports-wise?
Thrower: Cazzie Russell went there. So did Terry Cummings and Tim Hardaway.
Oleson: Did you ever play against pro players?
Thrower: At NIU, we always played DePaul every year to start the season. They had Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings. We always played against D-1 players. The competition was so tough. Everyone had talent. It was fun to watch basketball then.
Oleson: What did you study at NIU?
Thrower: I studied speech communications. I was going to go into radio and TV, especially radio. ...It’s funny how you go to school for something and it doesn’t work out, which is fine. It wasn’t what you were intended to do.
Oleson: So how did the shop come about?
Thrower: I tried out for a camp with the Lakers but it didn’t work out. I had the chance to play overseas, but I had no interest in it. I wanted to go into business. I used to be the manager of Molly’s for 10 years, but I wanted to do something on my own. Coffee was getting to be a big fad then so I left. We opened on July 14, 1994. We just celebrated 20 years.
Oleson: Have you always been at this location?
Thrower: Yes. We also had one in DeKalb and Batavia, but they went out around 9-11. ...We used to sell ice cream. We’ve also had other things, but they didn’t work out, like pies. ...You have to put your customers’ wants above what you want.
Oleson: What time do you get here?
Thrower: 2 to 2:30 in the morning. No one else comes in until 5:30, so I have three hours to myself to get things done. I got locked out this morning, that’s why I’m running late.
Oleson: Do people suggest sandwich ideas?
Thrower: We’re always getting suggestions. If I took them all, I’d have to have 50 more menu boards.
Oleson: Do you have a specialty sandwich?
Thrower: We have 25 sandwiches. All of them are good. None of them are bad. But if I had to choose one, it might be The UpStage. It’s melted ham and cheddar on a toasted, all-butter croissant.
Oleson: Speaking of Upstaging, which sometimes brings famous musicians to town, I have to ask about some of the celebrities who have come in here.
Thrower: We’ve had Paul McCartney, Sting and Cindy Crawford.
Oleson: Wasn’t your oldest daughter, Samantha, working when McCartney came in and didn’t recognize him?
Thrower: She didn’t know who he was. When someone told her, she asked what he sang.
Oleson: What about Sting?
Thrower: I was working when he came in. He’s not very tall. He just wanted a cup of joe. When he came in, I thought, “Is that Sting?” I’ve heard all of his records and the Police. When we spoke, that’s when I knew it was him. He is like a normal person.
Oleson: So you didn’t take his picture and put it up on your wall like some restaurants in the big cities do?
Thrower: As much as I might want to, I don’t infringe on them. They get enough of that. I’m very humbled to have them come in here.
Oleson: Any stars you’d like to see come in?
Thrower: They’re all welcome.
Oleson: Any plans for the future?
Thrower: We are looking forward to the next 20 years. We are looking to be more innovative.