When the time for a change in profession came for Michelle Ryan, she knew the familiar setting of Big Grove Tavern was where she was heading next. Toted as a classic tavern with a modern twist, Big Grove Tavern serves an eclectic take on comfort food staples and spice up their menu with their unique craft cocktails and fantastic wine and beer selections. Among the hustle and bustle of this popular restaurant, we were able to sit down with Michelle as she detailed a day in her life at the restaurant, some events that are on the horizon and how long-term networking turned her coworkers from friends into family.
Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with Big Grove Tavern.
I have lived in Champaign since 2006, when I moved here for a job in local radio. I established a relationship with Big Grove and Scott McIntosh (General Manager at Big Grove) when we began an on-air segment called MIXology. The Big Grove bartenders came into the studio where they’d mix up cocktails, we’d chat about what was up at the restaurant, and then we’d drink!! When I left radio in 2020, Scott reached out almost immediately and offered me a job. I started out on the floor but eventually also took over social media and marketing. I’ve learned so much more during my 2.5 years at Big Grove than I could have ever imagined, and I’m very grateful for that. I love serving, and once I’ve healed from knee surgery am really excited to return to that. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had – the learning curve was steep, and it can be grueling on many levels – but I really enjoy it and I love my coworkers. I’m very proud of all we do.
What is your role at Big Grove Tavern and what is a day-to-day snapshot of your job?
I do a little bit of everything here. I work with radio groups doing the commercials and with the newspaper. I work with all of the marketing outlets, including Champaign Center Partnership, Visit Champaign and have been on WCIA with CI Living. I’m sort of the front person, point person for our marketing and media relations. Day to day has changed a little as I had surgery a few months ago, and so I haven’t been able to be on the floor, but I’ve been coming in for the past few months part-time just working on the relationships, advertising and right now mostly working on mostly rebuilding a website. I’d never rebuilt a website before, so they have put a lot of trust in me. But I’m researching as I go and putting it together. It’s going to debut pretty soon so be on the lookout for that I have begun also working on the events here as well. I love doing private events and banquets. I love the activity that comes with it and we have such great spaces here with our private rooms and, once it is warmer, our patio that it makes putting them together really fun.
What are some food and drink MUST HAVES at Big Grove Tavern?
Well I was the mixology queen, so let’s start with drinks. I love the Italian job which is like an Aperol Spritz but my favorite is the Old Fashioned. It is kind of our signature partly because we make our own orange infused simple syrup and use luxardo cherries which I think that just takes it over the top. We have a great wine selection and local beers that should not be missed.
As far as our food goes, I love the Beets, and our Brussels Sprouts are one of our most popular appetizers. They’re INCREDIBLE. As are our the cheese curds! I love our Homestyle Chicken – it’s fantastic comfort food. Our burgers are Black Angus beef and so delicious, especially with a side of Cheddar Grits. I really think our steak tacos are some of the very best in town. The Shrimp & Scallop Ceviche is TO DIE FOR. Brunch is can’t miss. Our menu is always evolving, which is one of the best things about Big Grove Tavern.
Those are my favorites, but you pretty much can’t go wrong with anything here.
What do you like most about being located in downtown Champaign?
I have always loved downtown Champaign. Since I have moved here it’s just continued to grow. COVID was not good on anybody, but I feel like things are starting to come back again. We are getting new businesses, which has been excellent for our downtown’s growth. It is also really just the community here that makes it so special. I love the way that the restaurants work together and look out for one another. There is always something new happening, happening downtown. I mean, you could park in one spot and hit a bunch of different places. The events, especially in the summer with Friday Night Live and Street Fest and of course the Parade of Lights in the winter, have been great for our city. The Farmer’s Market here is also something special and just highlights the vibrancy of our city.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Big Grove Tavern?
I briefly spoke about this earlier, but we are a fantastic resource for private events. We have hosted many private dinners, but we also have rehearsal dinners, baby showers, wedding showers and birthday parties. You name it, we can accommodate it! We were able to take over the former KoFusion location which has given us a ton of room to work with. We have multiple rooms that can accommodate groups of all kinds and sizes. So, if people are looking for a place, they should contact us or go directly to our website. It’s also our tenth year in downtown Champaign this year. If you know the restaurant industry, is no small feat. We are just so grateful to the people who were so supportive to us during the tough times of Covid. It has just been wonderful how our people, our guests -friends really – have been very loyal and generous. They really are the backbone of our business and have been what has made it possible for us to keep going and allow me to continue doing what I love.