Within a few months, downtown Rantoul should have a new coffee shop and cafe.
Java Connection, a project of First United Methodist Church in Rantoul, is slated to open in the former Mediacom building at 107 E. Sangamon Ave.
"It will be a Christian coffee shop, but not Christian in your face," said Mark Keyes, the church's facility and operations manager. "We're interested in building relationships in the community by reaching out to neighbors in order to foster a family-friendly atmosphere."
The shop will roast its own coffee beans and serve soups, salads, sandwiches and paninis, Keyes said.
"We're doing a lot of work to make it a very modern, hip place," he said. "We hope to attract the younger community, a younger crowd."
Java Connection plans to offer live music on the weekends, with local artists performing on a small stage, he added.
Keyes said that when the Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin was appointed the church's pastor, members talked about how it would be nice to have a space apart from the church campus where people intimidated by large churches could feel free to come.
Shortly after that discussion, the family of church members D. and Myra Webb offered the building on Sangamon Avenue to the church.
Church members helped gut the interior, and now work has begun on the coffee shop.
As for when Java Connection will open, Keyes said, "We're hoping for late spring or early summer."
Java Connection will be about two blocks west and one block north of the church, located at 200 S. Century Blvd.
They screamed for ice cream
... and Mary Sutherlin listened.
Sutherlin, who operated the Hometown Travel agency in Gifford, served on the Gifford Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She repeatedly heard people wish for an ice cream parlor in town.
Now she and her husband, Len, are about to make those dreams come true.
They're planning to open Lenny's Ice Cream Gallery at 308 S. Main St. — the same space where Sutherlin operated Hometown Travel. They hope to be open by the last week of March.
"I retired after 30 years in the travel business, and I did not want to have another empty building in Gifford," Mary Sutherlin said. "I decided to put another business there, and we thought this would be a fun business.
Lenny's Ice Cream Gallery will have 12 kinds of hand-dipped, hard ice cream and two flavors of soft-serve. The Sutherlins are still doing taste-testing to determine what brands they'll serve.
"We'll have sundaes, floats, malts, shakes, banana splits," Mary Sutherlin said. "Plus, we'll have a couple of healthy choices, with fruit smoothies."
For Len — a retired Air Force senior master sergeant — it'll be like old times. Working at an ice cream parlor was his first job in high school. "We were joking about it," Mary Sutherlin said. "I told him, 'This will be your first job and your last job.'"
Hours for Lenny's Ice Cream Gallery are expected to be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
The ice cream parlor has seating for about 50, and customers can use a garden seating area once the weather warms up.
The phone number for the parlor is 568-7400, and the website is
For "city folk" unfamiliar with Gifford — population 975 — here are some simple directions for getting there.
— From Champaign-Urbana, take Interstate 57 north to Rantoul, then take U.S. 136 about 8 miles east to Gifford.
— For Danville residents, head north on Illinois 1 for about 10 miles, then follow U.S. 136 as it turns west, and continue 18 miles to Gifford.
Can you guess the five animals?
Josh Kern of Monticello has opened a new kung fu school in Champaign, and it's called Five Animals Choy Lei Fut.
The school, which opened in January, is located at 219 S. Locust St., C, where it shares space with the Precious Sword Shaolin Martial Arts Academy.
"Choy Lei Fut is a southern-style kung fu," Kern said, referring to southern China. "What makes it different from other southern styles is that it incorporates parts of northern-style kung fu."
Kern said martial arts icon Bruce Lee once described Choy Lei Fut as the hardest style to defend against, but the best for defending against multiple attackers.
"It uses big sweeping motions and 10- to 15-hit combos, which makes it hard for a group of people to get close," Kern said.
So where did Kern come up with the name Five Animals?
"A lot of Chinese kung fu styles derive from various animal movements," he said. "We use tiger, leopard, crane, snake and dragon."
Kern said he has been involved with that style of kung fu for three years and also has eight years of experience with Okinawan karate. He and fellow instructor Dan Putman were previously part of a Choy Lei Fut school in Urbana operated by Dan's brother, Rob.
Kern said some people learn kung fu for the exercise.
"It provides a good core and shoulder workout, leg strength, a sense of balance and aerial techniques," he said.
Five Animals offers classes from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and has an open gym for students from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays. The school's phone number is 480-5722, and the website is http://www.fiveanimalsclf.com.
Free pancakes on Feb. 28
IHOP will offer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes to customers on Feb. 28, in hopes they'll make a donation to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
Donations made at IHOPs in this area will benefit the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals program at St. John's Children's Hospital in Springfield.
IHOP hopes to raise $2.7 million this year, topping last year's donation of more than $2.5 million.
The promotion will be offered from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The Champaign IHOP is located at 308 E. Green St., C.
Are you opening a new business or changing an existing business? Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227 or 800-252-3346; by email at email@example.com; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.