TOTM Sams Cafe1

In 2005, Sam's Cafe began replacing its aging ceiling tiles with advertisements for local businesses. Today, the ceiling is nearly full of ads, given for free to friends and regulars.

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This week’s stop in our video series on local businesses with stories to tell: Sam’s Cafe in downtown Champaign.

Sam Issa, owner of Sam’s Cafe in downtown Champaign, was looking up at the ceiling one day 15 years ago, thinking about how he would soon have to change the aging tiles, when an interesting idea was put forward.

“A guy came up with an idea that you can change the ceiling tile without having to pay for them,” said Issa, right. “So we came up with the idea of changing the ceiling tile and giving people a chance to advertise for free.”

It started with just a few tiles that featured ads for local businesses, but quickly, the regulars started asking for their own tiles. Now, the ceiling is full of ads.

“Construction, real estate, drapery business, sign people, mechanic — you name it, we’ve got something up on the ceiling,” Issa said. “Eye doctor, banker, preacher. It’s kind of nice, somebody sitting here and they’re spending a few minutes waiting for their food, they can look up and say, ‘Oh, I know that sign’ or, ‘I know that person.’”

Issa doesn’t charge for the ads. He simply likes knowing they’re helping some of his loyal regulars.

“You just know somebody’s getting something out of it,” he said. “Some of the people are very loyal customers, so maybe I felt like it’s something to pay back. I don’t pay them as much as they pay me.”