Local businesses thrive against chains


The Daily Illini File Photo

Cracked on Green is located at 619 E Green Street in Champaign.

By Karan Abrol, Staff Writer

Despite the closures of Azzip Pizza and Mashawi Grill, local businesses on Green Street remain unfazed by the threat of competition from larger chain restaurants.

Elliot West, general manager of Cracked at 619 E. Green St., said Green Street is the place to be as a local business.

“Every peak hour between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., we have a line through the door,” West said. “During the night time, we get the pre-bar rush and the closing rush … Our sales are great.”

Patrick Li
Burrito King is located at 408 E Green Street in Champaign.

West said Cracked differentiates itself from its competitors with fresh, local ingredients.

“We source as hard as we can from local providers. If you want a preservative-rich sandwich, you can go to McDonald’s,” West said.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

Cracked operated solely out of a food truck for five years before the opening of the Green Street. location in March.

West acknowledges that chains like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts are cheaper alternatives to local businesses like Cracked.

“Our prices are as low as they can be for us to continue to serve the citizens of Champaign-Urbana,” West said.

Armando Sandoval, owner of Maize Mexican Grill at 60 E. Green St., also said being local is an advantage on Green Street.

“Everything’s more homey; the feeling is different. There’s a lot of people who go out of their way to support local businesses,” Sandoval said.

Maize Mexican Grill has been active for six years. A second location was opened in downtown Champaign in May.

Sandoval said althoughit’s difficult working with large companies that can get whatever they want, being part of the community really helped Maize become popular.

“We got really popular in a very grassroots type of way,” Sandoval said. “A lot of people go out of their way to promote us. They put up a picture on Facebook, or tell their friends or bring more people.”

Patrick Li
Maize Mexican Grill is located at 60 E. Green Street in Champaign.

Sandoval said that while Champaign is a small town, it has a large foodie community, which helps Maize’s sales.

Sandoval’s managing strategy relies on two things: his location’s small size and his handmade tortillas.

“The restaurant is small so we try to do everything fast and make the best of the few employees that we have,” Sandoval said. “There’s not a lot of chairs but we make food fast, so the turnaround for a meal is five minutes or less. We try to take advantage of being small and fast.”

Sandoval also said that while the Green Street location is struggling, the reason for this is the construction on the road leading to it, and not competition from chain restaurants.

Richard Stemle, part-owner of Mr. Kyoto at 611 E. Green St., said he stays competitive by sourcing from local suppliers.

“To keep the prices low here I fight tooth and nail to make sure that I get all of my goods at the lowest price,” Stemle said.

Mr. Kyoto is a relatively new local restaurant, having been open for two months.

Stemle said he runs a relatively high food cost, and runs a lower profit margin as a result.

“I feel that if I put out a superior product at a low price then people will appreciate the business more and then my volume will make up for the low margin,” Stemle said.

Stemle’s biggest challenge is his inability to remodel and make changes as easily as larger chains and conglomerates.

“Big chains have the up-front funding to make their store look like whatever they want; I don’t even have a sign,” he said. “McDonald’s and Jimmy John’s have large signs. They have a large backing of funds to do whatever they want. I have to fight to make changes here, or close the place for the day if we’re remodeling.”

Barkin Kurumoglu, sophomore in Engineering, said small businesses are better because chain restaurants can be found everywhere.

“With the chains, it’s the same thing everywhere, but I feel like having and trying out more local foods is good for everyone because everyone should be open to new things, especially with food,” Kurumoglu said.

Kurumoglu said even though Azzip Pizza closed down, many restaurants special to Champaign, like Cracked, Burrito King and Sakanaya, all seem to be doing fine.

“Is it daunting to go up against the conglomerated giants? Absolutely,” said West. “But there’s always a place, there’s always a crack in the wall that we can fill.”

[email protected]

[email protected]