Chris Mechling is no stranger to the restaurant business. Her family used to own Chris’ Candy Shop in downtown Champaign. Now, the food service administrator at the Beckman Café in the Beckman Institute talks about why working at UI is the best job she’s ever had.
What do you do?
“We feed some of the most brilliant people in the world, which is so cool,” Mechling said.
The café serves espresso drinks, coffee other beverages and a variety of lunch items including hot and cold soups, salads, and hot and cold sandwiches. The café is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Mechling comes in before the café opens to start making coffees and getting the café ready. “I help to make sure that lunch gets ready and I plan the menu. I do all the ordering; I supervise all the staff,” she said.
Mechling has yet to see a day when she’s bored.
“I’m so blessed to be here,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful facility. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. It’s such a fabulous place to work.”
Before coming to the UI, she sold food to hospitals, restaurants and schools. The last year she was at that job, she was caught in a big snowstorm.
“I decided I wasn’t going to do that one more year. When I came to campus, I started working at Palette Café at Krannert Art Museum,” she said.
One day, it started snowing, and in the café, she was looking out at the snow through big windows that surround the café.
“I had this stupid grin on my face,” she said.
Despite the current economic hardship the UI is facing, Mechling still wouldn’t trade her experience here for anything.
“Even with the financial situation being what it is right now, I can’t imagine working at a better place. I was raised in the restaurant business … I can’t say a bad thing about working at the UI.”
Where else has she worked?
Mechling’s family owned Chris’ Candy Shop, which had three locations over the years: 315 N. Neil St., 115 N. Neil St. and 115 N. Walnut St.
Chris’ Candy Shop specialized in homemade candies like caramel applies, crackerjack, peanut brittle, turtles and other delights. Chris’ great-uncle began the business and eventually brought Chris’ dad, Gus Chrisagis, into the business. Chris and her husband, Steve, who is a UI police officer, owned the shop at its last location.
Chris and Steve sold the store in 1982 and Chris went to work for the Urbana Chamber of Commerce as an operations coordinator. She worked for the food-service company for 7 1/2 years.
Steve eventually encouraged her to apply at the UI. She took tests for 18 months trying to land a position here.
She got a part-time position and filled in at the Palette Café and then got a full-time job for 2 1/2 years. She’s been at Beckman since 1998.
Chris also was able to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working here.
“I probably never would have done that (otherwise),” she said.
Does she miss anything about the restaurant business?
She concedes she sometimes misses making treats.
“I used to hand-pour more than 2,000 pounds of chocolate cream ever year,” she said.
And she missed her usual customers and would still go into the restaurant every morning to have breakfast shortly after they sold the business.
Chris has many fond memories of working alongside her dad, who emigrated from Greece. He still remembered the intricacies of turtle-making into the last years of his life.
What is something people might not know about Beckman Café?
“People call us the best-kept secret on campus,” she said.
Many people don’t realize the café is open to the public all day.
“We do wonderful salads, soups and sandwiches,” she said.
“It’s so cool to work in a facility like this. People here are as incredibly brilliant as they are and they’re so nice and so pleasant. It’s so wonderful to be around. I absolutely love being able to help in any way we can to help their day be better.”