Getting Personal: Ben Manns

Getting Personal: Ben Manns

Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, 37-year-old Ben Manns, co-owner of Bunny's Tavern in Urbana, chats with staff writer Paul Wood. Manns grew up in Urbana, where he had a favorite educator during his time at Yankee Ridge Elementary.

Where are you from?

I was born at Carle Foundation Hospital and grew up in Champaign-Urbana.

Tell us about your career.

I always had an interest in food growing up, but my true passion came when I had the opportunity to cook under my mentor and longtime friend at Farren's Pub in Champaign when I was only 19 years old. It didn't take long for me to realize that cooking and the restaurant business in general was going to be in my future for years to come. Telling my parents that I was going to drop out of the University of Illinois to pursue a career in cooking was one of the hardest things I had done at that point in my life, but I think it gives me the drive to this day to make sure that that decision was the right one for me.

What was your big move?

Taking over as a partner in Bunny's Tavern after spending the last 12 years of my life building on what was an already successful business when I started was a goal I finally achieved on the first of this year. Though my mindset has always been to work with a sense of ownership, getting to that point where it has finally come to fruition makes all the hours put in well worth it.

Tell us about the tradition.

Running a business that has been around since 1936 comes with some very strong ties to the past. Moving forward, I have no intention of changing any of the host of traditions we have here at Bunny's — only to build on top of them new ones that I hope have the longevity of the old. For example, we started serving breakfast on the weekends from 7 to 11 a.m. and have since extended our hours on Sundays to 1 p.m. for more of a brunch-like menu and atmosphere. It gives our friends from Champaign a bit more time to make it over on those lazy Sunday mornings to try a product that I am truly very proud of.

What's coming up next at Bunny's Tavern?

Looking ahead, St. Patrick's Day will kick off the start of our fundraising season for Bunny's Bash for MDA. For the past five years, a dollar from every plate of corned beef and cabbage sold has gone toward raising money for Central Illinois MDA Summer Camp. What started off as a group of friends and family trying to raise a little bit of money to help out some local kids with degenerative illnesses attend summer camp has blossomed into that same group of friends and family creating a whole day dedicated to that original cause. Our season culminates every year with our Bunny's Bash on the Saturday of the UI graduation. Last year, the total was over $32,000, and this year, the goal is to push that number over the $40,000 level. Being a part of this event going on its sixth year has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and has given me bonds that will last forever with a very special group of people. Never underestimate what a small group of hardworking and dedicated people can accomplish when their hearts are what drive them to succeed.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I can count on one hand the amount of Sundays that have transpired in the last year where I didn't end up with a porchetta sandwich from Baldarotta's Sicilian Sausage on my plate for dinner.

How about a mentor?

I don't think I would be where I am today without a very special educator whose influence was immense as a young adolescent growing up. Dorothy Vickers-Shelley was the librarian at Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana for all six years that I attended. I know I am just one of myriad other students who have grown up with her teachings and life lessons staying with us as adults, and for that, we all are eternally grateful. If there was ever one person who I wish I could have made a dinner for or shared a meal with, I would have to say it would be her hands down.

Favorite sports team?

The Chicago Cubs.

What book are you reading now?

"We Fed an Island" by Jose Andres.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (3):Food, People, Restaurants
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