Barry McNamara  |  Published August 23, 2021

Coffee with the Ketchums

Alumni couple are new owners of Galesburg’s iconic Innkeeper’s.

NEW OWNERS; Jessica Irons Ketchum '17 and Ben Ketchum '16 are now running Innkeeper's... NEW OWNERS; Jessica Irons Ketchum '17 and Ben Ketchum '16 are now running Innkeeper's Coffee, an iconic shop on Seminary Street in downtown Galesburg.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Part of Monmouth College’s mission statement discusses how the school empowers its graduates to “pursue successful careers and shape their communities.”

Young alumni Ben ’16 and Jessica Irons Ketchum ’17 are living that ideal in nearby Galesburg, where they’ve taken ownership of the city’s iconic Innkeeper’s Coffee shop.

For Jessica, it’s a coming home of sorts. She came to Monmouth from another Knox County community, Abingdon, and she worked at Innkeeper’s, first as a regular employee during her high school years and then occasionally during college.

“From being from here, I knew what a staple this place was for Galesburg,” she said. “I just have a passion to keep this Galesburg staple on track and just doing our part in making Galesburg a better place to live. To say we’re a part of doing that is really exciting.”

Married in 2020, the couple was living and working in Ben’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, when they got word that Innkeeper’s successful ownership team of Mike Bond and Johan Ewalt was looking to sell the business. The two men operated Innkeeper’s nearly a quarter-century, from 1998 until this year. They built the current location on Galesburg’s famous Seminary Street in 2003.

“From being from here, I knew what a staple this place was for Galesburg. I just have a passion to keep this Galesburg staple on track and just doing our part in making Galesburg a better place to live.” Jessica Ketchum

“Mike knew I was interested, but he told me I already had a good retirement plan through my work,” said Jessica, a cum laude graduate who started in insurance at Horace Mann before taking a position with the State of Illinois. “But after Ben and I talked, we knew we were going to do it.”

The first discussions about the Ketchums’ new venture came in mid-January. By May 4, it was official.

“It’s nice to know they trusted us with something they’ve built for so many years,” said Ben.

Bond and Ewalt are filling a consulting role for the Ketchums through the end of the year.

Couple’s Coffee 101

The Ketchums’ first date as Monmouth students was ice skating in Peoria – where Ben helped Jessica stay on her feet because she’d eschewed the walker that was provided – but they soon made their way to Innkeeper’s, where Jessica showed off one of her favorite spots to study and grab a cup of coffee.

“I came here, and I was amazed,” said Ben. “Even if this was in Springfield, it would be considered a very nice place.”

The Ketchums started working at Innkeeper’s on July 22 and officially took over the business Aug. 1.

“I came here, and I was amazed. Even if this was in Springfield, it would be considered a very nice place.” Ben Ketchum

“I needed a refresher,” said Jessica of the ins and outs of serving Innkeeper’s devoted clientele.

Her husband needed much more.

“I was more ‘I have no idea. Please teach me,’” said Ben. “Honestly, it’s all a big learning curve for me.”

Fortunately, he’s a fast learner. By mid-August, he had a few of the intricacies mastered.

“One of the things I learned at the very beginning, in addition to how to make all the beverages, was how to operate the cash register,” he said. “I’ve also really enjoyed learning all the different parts of owning a business.”

“It presents challenges you couldn’t even think of,” said Jessica.

Learning the food offerings at Innkeeper’s has its perks. Ben said he has a new favorite, the “Mediterranean Sunflower Salad,” which features both black and green olives. Jessica is partial to the “Groovy Bagel Melt,” a colorful mix of hummus, spinach, red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, carrots and provolone.

Their Monmouth years

Ben proved to be a quick study in college, as well. After giving a verbal commitment to play football at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Ben visited Monmouth a final time and was impressed that then-coach Steve Bell and his staff had star quarterback Alex Tanney meet with him.

“That told me that they really did want me, that they really did care about me,” he said.

At Ben’s first scrimmage his freshman year, there were no available defensive tackles, so assistant coach Mitch Russell asked him to switch from his end position. After Ben performed well, “Coach Russell told me, ‘You’re a tackle now.’”

In his final two seasons at Monmouth, Ben earned first team All-Midwest Conference honors from his adopted defensive tackle spot. A wellness administration major, he went to work in an emergency room as an ER tech, which he said helped him deal with high-stress situations and learn to think on his feet.

DESERVES A TOAST: Young alumni Ben and Jessica Ketchum are enjoying their early days of owning a ... DESERVES A TOAST: Young alumni Ben and Jessica Ketchum are enjoying their early days of owning a successful business in Galesburg.A business major, Jessica’s entrepreneurial spirit was sparked by her parents, who operate a business in Galesburg. It was fueled by Julie Rothbardt, who owned two businesses while she was Jessica’s professor at Monmouth. Jessica also understands a leadership role, having served as chapter president of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

The Ketchums have come back to the area, and they’re looking forward to seeing other alumni when they make the trip to Monmouth.

“We’re excited for all the big weekends at Monmouth when we’re sure we’ll see some familiar faces here,” said Jessica. “Roll Scots!”

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