On Springfield and Prospect in Champaign, a new café and bakery is drawing in traffic, both in vehicles and on foot. The building that once stood at one of the four corners of the intersection over the past year was gutted, including removing and replacing 4 layers of flooring and reconstructing all the drywall from scratch. Now, the second location of local favorite Pekara stands and has faired incredibly well to start its new tenure on the busy street corner.
Alli, the manager of the new location has been with Pekara since 2013, and before she began her 5+ years with the café, she worked for over 20 years in the bar scene. The change isn’t that drastic, except for the scheduling differences. “Before, I was getting to bed when I’m not getting out of bed to come work here. It’s all service, it’s just a different atmosphere,” Alli said, as she chatted with VCC’s Taylor at the new location. “People used to say they didn’t go downtown, or they couldn’t find parking by our first location, well now we have a great lot and great location, and nothing around us like what we’re doing.”
Much of the local coffee is located in the more urban, downtown areas of the greater Champaign County area. Alli was careful to tell me though that they are not a coffee shop. “We just happen to serve really great coffee. When you have the best pastries in town, you need to serve a good cup of coffee,” she said. Despite the confidence in their product, Alli says that the local café saturation within Champaign and the surrounding areas isn’t a bad thing. In fact, they’re quite close with their neighbors. “We’re really good friends with those guys. We work together as much as possible, like if a holiday is coming up, we’ll see who wants to stay open and who wants to close. If we’re open one year for Labor Day, they’ll stay open the next. They’re great, and we’re all just working to serve a great experience.”
The downtown location opened in 2005 and has been popular ever since. The crowd at the new location is different from the original spot. Alli notes that the new Pekara location is a much older crowd, with many living nearby. “People are coming from their homes in the nearby neighborhoods, walking and biking. It’s great, because we have a larger dining room, and it’s kind of like walking to another home.” Alli thinks that location is only part of the new Pekara’s success. “We want to wow. We have a bakery case that makes you stop in awe, we have a knowledgeable staff, and we have something for everyone,” she said. Pekara serves food friendly to vegans, gluten intolerances, and everything in between
For not being a “coffee place” as Alli put it, they make a great latte, and have a full espresso bar with lots of options. They have a pasty chef on staff, Mel, baking every day in store to fill that bakery case Alli is proud of, and so far, it seems like that year long remodel of the space was worth it. Alli says they’re overjoyed and hope to see much more new faces through the doors of their newest location.