Looking for a place to eat in the heart of Champaign-Urbana is not an excessively difficult task. Drive a couple of minutes in any direction, and it’s likely you’ve already passed several dining options.
The C-U community is largely based around the University of Illinois campus, which brings in tens of thousands of students each year from all over the world. As a frequent campus visitor, I have seen the students’ various dining options while walking around, especially on Green Street, known for being the most competitive for selling food on campus. Many chain restaurants and big company names dominate this street, but there is always a handful of small, family-owned restaurants scattered throughout.
Many of the small-business owners tend to be of a minority demographic, implying that they migrated to this country or descended from migrants. Although these smaller businesses may not be bringing in customers with a familiar name, other characteristics factor in.
Since migrants run many of these stores, the decoration and different languages printed on the windows draw in a specific demographic. Students from other countries can recognize their home language on the side of a business and automatically form a connection with it, helping to bring in business.
Looking at Yelp, I found that many of these smaller establishments were geared toward migrant customers. Once these restaurants have drawn in that demographic, hard work and determination can help them rise to the top, which Yelp’s list of highest-rated restaurants in the area seems to bear out. Assuming that the owners of those smaller businesses were migrants, they may have struggled to build their lives in America. I felt quite satisfied for them, knowing that their struggles and hard work of building up their business had paid off and beat out the larger establishments.
As a Chinese-American, I love Asian cuisine. There is a special restaurant I keep dear in my heart called Golden Harbor. Both of my parents were raised in China and they migrated to America for education. I was born and raised in America, absorbing its culture outside my home but always eating Asian cuisine inside my home. Golden Harbor, a family-owned, small-scale restaurant, brings that delicious, fresh, flavorful Asian cuisine I know and love.
My family has been coming to this restaurant ever since we discovered it five years ago. By now, the owner recognizes us every time we visit, offering a free dish every time, which we kindly decline but she ends up giving us anyway. Although my family and the owner are not close friends, we still find a feeling of comfort when we recognize and greet each other.
Other businesses in the area have mostly been dominated by chains and large companies, but those special family-owned businesses that you find are true gems. There’s a real sense of connection between people. It’s a mutual consumer-owner relationship: you start recognizing the owners every time you enter the store, and the owners begin recognizing you.
However, returning to the idea of culture in small businesses, I have noticed that small-business owners need to find an audience, a group of consumers who share similar backgrounds with them. On the other hand, chain restaurants can simply do well just from their status as a well-known establishment because customers know exactly what to expect. Family-owned or small establishments have to work their way up. Unlike large establishments, small restaurants have to attract and impress their first customers in order to earn their reputation, keep loyal customers and ultimately stay in business.
In business, it’s all about money and success. However, no matter the size of the company or business, forming a connection and understanding between owners and consumers is important. However small your business may be when first opening, it can grow in success as long as the owners find their consumer audience and continue sharing the culture that bonds them together.