Getting Personal: Matt Cho


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Getting Personal is a Q&A with a local personality. Here, Matt Cho of Urbana, the founder of [co][lab] and Cafeteria & Co. in downtown Champaign, chats with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli. Cho says he is halfway through his Crane Alley beer tour.

The Cafeteria & Co. space you designed in downtown Urbana is beautiful. Have you designed any other interior spaces or buildings around here?

Thank you, it is always great to hear that something you designed works aesthetically, but I really didn't have to do much outside of programming the space since a lot of the existing elements were already there and just needed to be uncovered. Right now, most of anything I am involved with design-wise hovers around Main Street, but time in Japan confirmed my interest in superefficient minimal spaces. So who knows, perhaps a small residence or bar space in the future — know anyone who might be interested?

I read that you have master's degrees from the University of Illinois in architecture, urban planning and civil engineering. Did you study for all three at the same time?

I actually came back to study architecture and one degree led to the other. I suppose the short answer is that it started with an interest in good design that can inspire and help connect people and/or communities — all three disciplines play a part in conceptualizing and physically realizing that interest. And after being in school for a while, anything I involve myself with now is a constant process of learning, tweaking and experimenting. Plus, I got pretty good at optimizing my time, which made all three degrees somewhat manageable.

Didn't you go to Uni High? What was that like?

For chemistry, we were taught how to use Gopher and build websites. So I nearly failed chemistry in undergrad. That is Uni.

What exactly is [co][lab]? What kind of projects are happening there now?

[co][lab] is a co-working space, which is basically a shared workspace for early stage starters, freelancers or individuals running their own business. You can find these kind of spaces all over the country, mostly in urban areas where there is a premium on space. For smaller cities like C-U where space is cheap and readily available, the real value is the peer-to-peer community you get interacting with others in the space. Earlier this year, we tweeted that we would start or help start 10 businesses this year, which was surprisingly not that difficult given the number of talented and motivated people in this area. Outside of that, we don't have specific projects, just basically anything that helps raise the appetite for risk or entrepreneurial IQ in this community — count us in!

You grew up in Urbana and helped start the effort @urbanalove. What is that all about?

@urbanalove is a platform for anyone who wants to promote or launch events, happenings or ideas for downtown Urbana. It can be as simple as getting the word out or more involved such as a T-shirt campaign at the farmers' market or showing movies in Busey's parking lot during the summer. If anyone is interested, they should get in touch via Twitter!

Do you have any other plans for any other building or other projects in Urbana? Or elsewhere?


What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

Usually I am up by 7:30. First thing is coffee. I love coffee.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

"Triumph of the City" by Ed Glaeser.

What's your favorite sports team?

Any team that beats the Lakers, Heat or Cavs (recently).

What would you order for your last meal?

Country fried steak.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Louis CK, Warren Buffett, Taylor Swift. Country fried steak.

What's your best piece of advice?

I didn't come up with this, but "failure is not lethal" is pretty good to hear now and again.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I worked as a dishwasher at my family's restaurant. I was paid in soda, cheeseburgers and fried fish sandwiches — which is all a sixth-grader can ask for.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

After a really packed day, I will run until I am too tired to think of anything else.