Tucked away in a corner of downtown Urbana, the Courier Café is one of the oldest restaurants in the area, and according to their website it is the oldest building in downtown Urbana. Alvin T. Burrows bought the land on which Courier stands today in 1916. He erected the building and carried on the local newspaper, the Courier, which had already been going strong for years. The newspaper had a long 63-year career in this location before going out of business in 1979. This is when Allen Strong, owner of the Courier Café and Silvercreek Restaurant, stepped in to renovate.
Strong bought the Courier Café because he saw real opportunity for a restaurant business there. He says people called him crazy because there were no restaurants in downtown Urbana at the time, and many empty storefronts. He stepped up to the challenge, though, and set out to create a destination in Urbana. He preserved as much of the original architecture as possible, and kept the old name, too, since it was carved in stone atop the doors and served as a reminder of an important piece of Urbana history.
The menu at Courier Café is just one of the many interesting aspects of the restaurant. As opposed to a traditional restaurant where items on the menu are organized by type of food, Courier Café’s menu is nonsequential. Employees memorized the menu order in a certain way and to change it would “put wait staff in delirium.” Strong says he is proud to have a menu that caters to a broad spectrum of the community–from doctors and lawyers to students and blue collar workers. He says, “We are busy all the time.”
This is evident, and reflects the way long time residents feel about Courier Café. Strong says Courier Café is an integral part of people’s lives. “People came here as children, now they’re bringing their grandkids. Three generations.” Courier Café has been a mainstay in the Champaign-Urbana area for almost 37 years. Strong says he did not plan for this, because he was only 24 years old when he renovated the building. “I just planned to make it through the next year,” he laughed. “I did not plan to be here this long.” Nevertheless, he is proud of the longevity and staying power of this restaurant.