It's Your Business: Project a chance for cyclists to share rides
Editor's note: Get more business development news Monday at 7:40 a.m. on WDWS as the morning show crew visits with Champaign's Planning & Development Director Bruce Knight.
If you've noticed more people than usual cruising around Champaign-Urbana on yellow tandem bikes, chalk it up to The Big Yellow Ride.
The tandem-rental project, which got underway last spring, is expected to pedal to a new level later this month, said Tim Chao, a partner in Neutral Cycle Workshop.
If things go as planned, The Big Yellow Ride will arrange with several food- and drink-based businesses in Champaign-Urbana to serve as bike-rental stations.
"The goal is ambitious, with stations that will be set in downtown Urbana, downtown Champaign and Campustown," Chao said. "We're going to have three stations in each city, for a total of six."
The idea is that people can register online for a bike rental, then go to a participating business and pick up a helmet and a key that enables them to unlock a bike. Once the ride is over, they can return to that location and, presumably having worked up an appetite, have a bite to eat there.
The project is a collaboration between Neutral Cycle and students from the Innovation Living-Learning Community on the University of Illinois campus.
Chao said the first phase of the project began in April, and The Big Yellow Ride now has a fleet of eight bikes at Neutral Cycle's campus location, 624 S. Fifth St., C.
"It's gone extremely well," Chao said. "A lot of people are renting on BigYellowRide.com. The average is one a day."
Prospective riders can rent the tandems online for $10 an hour, or they can come to the shop and rent the bike for the entire day, for $35, Chao said.
"The idea is to open up the tourism and cycling communities and combine them together," he said.
Bike-sharing systems such as those in New York and Chicago cost millions of dollars to build up, Chao said. But this is a localized model that can help Champaign-Urbana build its own system.
Chao, who majored in physics at the UI and is nothing if not innovative, recently introduced some other cycling projects.
Neutral Cycle is collaborating with industrial design students from the UI to establish a prototype for a locally based design studio for bicycles, parts and accessories. It's located at 628 S. Fifth St., C, south of Neutral Cycle, in the space formerly occupied by 217 Tattoo Company.
Plus, this summer, Neutral Cycle and Innovation Living-Learning Community launched a program providing bike storage for people who don't have space to store bikes over break. They can drop their bikes off at Neutral Cycle, which will store the bike. For an extra charge, the bike can be tuned up, aired up and lubricated and be ready for students on their return.
Neutral Cycle Workshop got its start in 2010, "when the economy was down and still recovering," Chao said.
"A couple of us decided to work together ... to create alternative solutions for the bicycle community," he said.
Chao and Daniel Kamberelis opened a small workshop to build bikes, and in 2012, the shop at 201 N. Busey Ave., U, opened to the public.
Neutral Cycle's campus shop on Fifth Street started in April of this year, Chao added.
"We provide all the repair services, general tuneups, sales of bicycles and accessories, and we provide free air and lubrication if you do it yourself," Chao said.
Besides tandems, Neutral Cycle also rents basic, high-end and cargo bikes and bike trailers by the day.
The "Neutral" name was initially inspired by the neutral gear, in which a cyclist can coast without pedaling, he said.
"But in the past few years, we've started to expand on that to be more of a balance. We want to bring in speakers and new ideas. How do we make the ideas a reality — to balance working hard and bringing the best value to people?" he said.
The phone number for Neutral Cycle Workshop is 773-217-0125. Its website is neutralcycle.com, and the website for Big Yellow Ride is bigyellowride.com.
Wild blue yonder
Mark Whiting has started Champaign Aviation, a new flight school operating out of the University of Illinois-Willard Airport in Savoy.
Champaign Aviation provides flight training and aircraft rental to the general public, using a Piper Warrior aircraft. Prospective private pilots can schedule flight lessons and ground instruction when it's convenient for them and can progress toward a certificate at the pace they feel is right, Whiting said.
A physiological psychologist by training, Whiting was a professor at Radford University in Virginia for four years before coming to the Champaign-Urbana area two years ago. He is a research development specialist for the UI's Division of Biomedical Sciences, doing grant development work for multidisciplinary teams.
Whiting has been flying for seven years. He is a commercial pilot and Federal Aviation Administration-certified flight instructor with single-engine land and sea ratings.
Whiting is a member of the National Association of Flight Instructors, the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association and the Seaplane Pilots Association.
The Champaign Aviation staff is "just me for now, but I'm not too far away from hiring some part-time instructors," he said.
The phone number for Champaign Aviation is 778-1155.
Jet's fired up for second store
Jet's Pizza is planning to open up a second store in Champaign, this time in the Round Barn area in part of the space formerly occupied by Blockbuster Video.
"We're going to open over there hopefully later this year. We'd like to open in November," said Pat Snack, whose family already operates the Jet's Pizza location at Neil and Green streets in Champaign.
That store opened in February 2012, and Snack said the new location made sense because "we needed to be on the west side."
"This store is going to be larger and will have some dine-in (space), she said, noting that the Neil and Green location offers only pickup and delivery. "We have all our plans done and are in the throes of getting into construction."
The new store, at 1907 W. Springfield Ave., C, will likely employ 15 to 20 people, she said.
Snack said it's too early to comment on whether Jet's might open other locations in the area.
"I just want to get this one under our belts first," she said.
Wiese Enterprises, a venture of Snack and her son, Don Wiese, operate the existing store. She said the new store will be operated by Wiese and his brother, Matt.
"Champaign-Urbana has been very good to us and has been receptive to our product," she added.
Jet's is best known for its deep-dish square pizza, but also serves thin-crust round pizzas, as well as subs, salads and other items.
Jet's will occupy the northern 2,500 square feet of the Blockbuster space. The remaining 4,000 square feet is available for lease, according to Richard Park of Coldwell Banker Commercial Devonshire Realty.
Caribbean on wheels
Caribbean Grill, the local catering company that serves up lunch to go on Wednesdays at The Refinery in Champaign, has launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a food truck.
As of Friday, the campaign had raised more than $3,000 of its $10,000 goal, with the campaign scheduled to end Aug. 13.
Mike Harden, the owner and executive chef, started Caribbean Grill in 2010. Now he's hoping to take his island cuisine to the streets so folks have access to it more than once a week.
The carryout lunch at The Refinery, 2302 W. John St., C, runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays. It features a jerk chicken meal and a barbecue jerk meatballs meal, each of which comes with rice and peas, gravy, plantain and bread. Harden also offers weekly specials.
Side dishes include macaroni and cheese, steamed cabbage and sweet fried plantains. For dessert, there's pineapple rum cake.
Besides catering events throughout the week, Caribbean Grill has an online store that sells its own brand of jerk sauce and marinade as well as seasonings.
Folks who make pledges to the Kickstarter campaign can qualify for rewards, such as vouchers, bottles of jerk sauce and marinade, and party packages. For more information on the Kickstarter campaign, visit caribbeangrill.net/kickstarter.
The phone number for Caribbean Grill is 960-5375. If you have trouble remembering numbers, the last four digits can also be dialed as JERK.
Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.