I Dream of Sweets serves mostly from-scratch food in an atmosphere designed to make customers feel at home. Photo by Kira Stiers

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Evanston coffee shops are not hard to come by. With more than 10 different places to grab a daily caffeine fix, business and life partners James Watson and Lorenzo Mascherini started I Dream of Sweets, 611 Dempster St., as an oasis from everyday cafés.

“In some coffee shops you blend in with the furniture,” Mr. Watson said. Opened on Jan. 15, this floor-to-ceiling white, vintage-inspired café lets customers feel at home.

Mr. Mascherini said, “It’s an extension of your living room.” Recognizing that there is some stiff competition in the area, Mr. Mascherini said, “We wanted to be different. … It’s more refreshing.”

Having met many years ago in Mr. Mascherini’s home town of Florence, Italy, the owners have backgrounds in both furniture design and food. “Our original concept was to have a furniture store with everything made in Italy,” Mr. Mascherini said. Wanting to combine both of their passions, the owners envisioned a café with furniture for sale. “We wanted to bring in our tables and chairs for people to sit in and feel,” Mr. Mascherini said. Having limited space, Mr. Watson said, they settled on just a café for the time being.

Toward their goal of authenticity, Mr. Mascherini said they make 65 to 70 percent of their food from scratch. “For different seasonal offerings we work with three to four local pastry chefs,” Mr. Watson said. Soups, quiches, pound cakes, cupcakes and pesto for the paninis are just some of the things that are made in-house, fresh every day, they said.

Many of their offerings are inspired by both Mr. Watson’s and Mr. Mascherini’s histories. “We both bring our heritage,” Mr. Watson said. “I use my mother’s recipe for sweet potato pound cake.”

The paninis are Mr. Mascherini’s Italian contribution to the menu. “We have a panini press. It’s easy to break down, and they are quick to do, so there are no people waiting in long lines,” Mr. Watson said. Alluding to some of his “secret Italian recipes,” Mr. Mascherini said, “The combination of flavors is unique.”

As a vegetarian, Mr. Mascherini revealed his favorites from the menu. “I love our minestrone soup and the caprese panini.”

Mr. Watson, a self-proclaimed “sweet fanatic,” said his sweet potato pound cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream is his favorite. “It just melts in your mouth,” he said.

With open mic nights and poetry readings already on the schedule, the owners say they plan to hold more events in the future: “We are looking at maybe karaoke or board game night. … We want to start a book club,” they said.

Of their five employees, Mr. Watson said, three are native Evanstonians. “It’s hard out there right now with the recession,” he said. “We’re still glad we made the decision to move forward with this.” Recognizing the hard work it takes to keep a small business afloat, Mr. Watson said, “You get out what you put in.”