Big Grove Tavern to open in former Jim Gould location

Big Grove Tavern to open in former Jim Gould location

CHAMPAIGN — Big Grove Tavern plans to open later this month in the former Jim Gould space in downtown Champaign, its general manager said.

The restaurant expects to begin serving both lunch and dinner May 31, with a series of "soft openings" for dinner a couple weeks before then, general manager Michael Johnson said.

In late January, there had been hopes the restaurant would open in mid-March.

But executive chef Jessica Gorin said the extra time allowed her to expand contacts with local food suppliers.

Big Grove Tavern plans to offer "Midwestern craft cuisine," with classic dishes "reinvented" with fresh ingredients, many sourced from local farms, according to former Champaign residents Mitch Marlow and Eric Nash, who helped develop the restaurant's strategy.

Dinner entrees include: macaroni-and-cheese, made with local cheeses, bacon, leeks, garlic bread crumbs and fried shallots; free-range roasted chicken; house-made pork sausage; and pan-seared whitefish.

Dinner prices range from $11 for the tavern burger (made from beef, bison and pork and served with fries) to $21 for the bistro filet, Marlow said.

Johnson said lunch entrees will likely be in the $9 to $12 range. Items on the lunch menu include a grilled steak sandwich, roasted turkey sandwich, avocado-and-Amish Swiss sandwich and a beer-brined pork loin horseshoe.

Desserts include rhubarb crisp, sweet potato waffles and chocolate pot de creme.

The restaurant will employ 50 people, with only a few service staff and morning lunch cooks yet to be hired, Johnson said.

Lunch hours are expected to be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, while dinner hours will be 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with the bar remaining open until 2 a.m.

Marlow and Nash said the restaurant's seating area will be smaller than that of Jim Gould, with efforts to make it "warm, rustic and welcoming."

The bar is being extended so it will be a prominent part of the restaurant, rather than confined to a nook, they said.

Johnson said furnishings will include dark brown tufted booths and "string lighting."

Gorin — previously executive chef at The Thirsty Bear restaurant in San Francisco — said that in creating menus for Big Grove, she researched cookbooks and consulted people about dishes they remembered eating while growing up.

She said Big Grove will offer seasonal menus to reflect the availability of locally produced ingredients.

Johnson, who most recently worked at Silvercreek, said he plans to build an extensive list of beer, wine and spirits, with most of the beers coming from the Midwest.

Marlow and Nash said the managers aim to make the restaurant "very inclusive, not niched to any age or demographic."

The Big Grove name is derived from the area on the north side of Urbana that was the first in the region to be settled.

Johnson said the restaurant is owned by an investor group, the Downtown Champaign Restaurant Association. Jon "Cody" Sokolski, CEO of One Main Development, is among the investors, Johnson said.

Area suppliers to the restaurant are expected to include Blue Moon Farm in Urbana, Brackett Farm in Champaign, Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery in Fithian, Moore Family Farm in Watseka, Rockome Garden Foods west of Arcola, and Sunlit Pasture Farm, Johnson said.

Big Grove Tavern also plans to serve some baked goods from Pekara and coffee from Columbia Street Roastery, both in Champaign, he added.

Comments embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Sidney61877 wrote on May 02, 2012 at 8:05 am

$11 for a tavern burger & fries?  $9 - $12 for lunch entrees?  As much as I would like to see this place succeed, I give it a year ... maybe 18 months at the most.  I hope that I am wrong.

rpl1234 wrote on May 02, 2012 at 9:05 am

$11 doesn't seem unreasonable.  How much does Farren's charge or Guidos?  I wish the new place the best.  Personally I would love a late night place like La Bamba in downtown.  An Indian restuarant would be a nice option to all the other fares available downtown.  I love kabobs so Mediterranean would be a welcome addition as well.

champaignfawn wrote on May 02, 2012 at 10:05 am

first of all, farrens' charges 8 for a burger with fries. how do they think this is going to fly in champaign-urbana? they want to make it "very inclusive"? don't jack up your prices to shut out a big demographic in cu.

SnotNose wrote on May 02, 2012 at 4:05 pm

If you expect there not to be a few extra bucks put in the prices to cover the costs of their high-rent district location and fancier ingredients -- then proceed to Farrens.

bb wrote on May 02, 2012 at 11:05 am

Sounds reasonably priced to me - I'd give them a try.  Probably about half what Jim Goulds was.

Christianfreed1 wrote on May 02, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I heard that they are using locally and regionally sourced products and making the best of our great local farms vs. just having the Sysco truck pull up, opening boxes of questionable frozen patties imported from Mexico or someplace.  Give these people credit for supporting local farms and doing something great in downtown.  I'd gladly pay $11 for a great burger that wasn't out of a box.  But alas, so many in CU just want things to be cheap, not good quality - please sir, may I have more slop? More processed food?  More chain restaurants that don't support the local community?  More pink slim?  Ignore those farms outside of town!  I'm going there and I'm supporting it.

killerut wrote on May 03, 2012 at 8:05 am

Definitely a place I cannot afford to eat. 

Ted Berry wrote on May 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm

The prices sound beyond resonable to me.  In fact for what they say they're offering it sounds stupendous.  I'm so happy to see Champaign-Urbana is finally keeping up with the food revolution that exists everywhere else like Chicago.  I'd much prefer going here than wasting the same or less money on some crappy chain.  I think it's going to be a huge success.  

M johnson wrote on May 02, 2012 at 11:05 am

Thank you for the feedback. We believe that our burger is very fairly priced. Its price is comparable with other restaurants in the area including Destihl, Dublins, Meatheads and Farrens (once fries are added). Our burger will be beef, bison and pork all sourced from local farms; Kilgus Farmstead, Bloomin’ Prairie Bison and Moore Family Farm. It is served on a paisano roll baked fresh daily from Pekara Bakery with red onion marmalade, bibb lettuce and cornichon aioli and comes with house cut Kennebec fries. Our mission is to source local and farm fresh ingredients whenever possible – not only to create delicious dishes, but to also help support our neighbors. We hope to see everyone in the restaurant soon.


Michael Johnson

General Manager

Big Grove Tavern

Lefty wrote on May 02, 2012 at 11:05 am

I'm willing to pay more for quality, locally grown and produced products, and I think there are plenty of like-minded folks out there. Big Grove's management team obviously respects and supports the community, and I hope many will return the favor.

kiwifuz wrote on May 02, 2012 at 3:05 pm

The Thirsty Bear huh?  Does this mean there will be a good craft beer list too?

SnotNose wrote on May 02, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Please don't overlook the craft beer angle!

M johnson wrote on May 02, 2012 at 8:05 pm

We have not forgotten about craft beers. Just as the food specializes in Midwestern cuisine, the beers will have a heavy focus on Midwest breweries. We will have eight taps, most of which will change throughout the seasons, with around 30 bottle choices, almost all from craft breweries. We will also have a great cocktail list including our first seasonal infusion. In addition the wine list will be very approachable with 18 glass pours and 40 bottles.

Michael Johnson

General Manager

Big Grove Tavern

dogeatdog wrote on May 02, 2012 at 10:05 pm

My finances preclude eating out much & that is a little high. But as a farmer's market regular who buys from most of those suppliers listed I know you get what you pay for. I'm looking forward to BGT as a place to go for something special.

newsaholic wrote on May 03, 2012 at 4:05 pm

It's wonderful to see the downtown area continue to grow.  When I do eat out it is usually downtown, and I will be more than happy to support a restaurant that works with area suppliers.  Best of Luck!

jmh910 wrote on May 04, 2012 at 9:05 am

I don't think the prices sound unreasonable.  I could pay the same price for a burger and fries at Ruby Tuesdays, or any other chain restaurant out on North Prospect. Would much rather spend the money at a local restaurant that is being supplied by local farms. 

Looking forward to the opening, to see if the food will be as good as it sounds!

Seriously. wrote on May 04, 2012 at 10:05 am

I can't wait! There are a lot of foodies around here who will jump on a restaurant that focuses on fresh, local ingredients. The prices seem quite reasonable - not too lofty or fussy and something for everyone. I paid over $10 the one (and ONLY) time I went to Meatheads.

I'm very excited about the bison, especially.

Heather J. wrote on May 07, 2012 at 12:05 am

I'm also really excited about a new place opening up downtown using LOCAL products! I don't think the prices are unreasonable at all, especially since they are supporting other local businesses. Seems reasonable to me. 

Personally, I do not eat at chain restaurants. It makes me really happy that we have a new, downtown, non-chain restarant. We generally eat out downtown at least once a week, so I'm happy to have another choice. 


handyman65 wrote on May 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm

This is not my normal kind of eatery and being I'm on a BK budget this didn't interest me til I read the food is all locally acquired.Suddenly the few extra dollars isn't a hindrance and my mouth is watering in anticipation of the first bite of some real food.Hello downtown,here I come!