Melissa Fanella is the owner of Caffe Paradiso located at 801 S. Lincoln Ave. in Urbana. Fanella graduated from the University of Illinois and later moved back to the community to open Caffe Paradiso which has been running for more than six years.
What were you doing before Paradiso?
I studied English literature and creative writing at U of I and worked in coffee shops for about seven years. After graduation, when no one here would hire me to do a job relating to my degree, I moved back to the suburbs and worked in food service at a racetrack. After doing that for a while, I was itching to do something creative again. I opened an art gallery on a shoestring budget and did that for about a year, until the cafe idea came to be. Then it was time to move to Champaign-Urbana and get back into the coffee shop business.
What makes Paradiso different from other community cafes?
Every cafe has things that set it apart from the next. Unless you are Starbucks or trying to be Starbucks. In those cases, you’re not truly a community cafe. A good cafe has a chance to bring something fresh to a community while offering something old as time-a meeting place. We work really hard to maintain a comfortable place where people not only feel welcome but feel part of it in some way. As a staff, we have fun working together, so it makes for a good atmosphere all around. We enjoy what we do and that keeps the cafe feeling alive. Something more specific and coffee-related that sets us apart is our outstanding coffee roaster. Intelligentsia (a small roastery in Chicago) simply produces really great coffee. Our staff appreciates that and has the experience and training to serve drinks that do justice to that amazing coffee.
What is your favorite thing about working at Paradiso?
The people I work with and for. I wouldn’t have stayed in C-U if I hadn’t found a second family at the cafe. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people or a more fun and hardworking staff. There is a great sense of belonging that comes with a good cafe-among the staff and the people we serve. I’ve known some of these customers for 10 years or more. I love being around coffee and food, but I could do that anywhere-it’s the people who have kept me here.
When you’re not at Paradiso, what do you like to do?
There are lots of things I like to do but not much time to pursue them or mental space to devote to them. It’s rare that I even finish reading a book anymore. Running a business takes over, no matter how hard you think you can fight it. I like to sit around a table with friends and/or family-that’s something I’ll always make time for in my life. A friend recently taught me how to knit-it’s a surprisingly relaxing way to spend cold winter nights.
What events does Paradiso put on?
We’re pretty much up for anything. Over the years we’ve hosted everyone from Santa Claus to Braid. We have sporadic pasta nights-one is coming up on Monday, Jan. 24: A benefit dinner for tsunami victims. All proceeds get sent to CARE. Come eat! And we’ll have live music again (don’t tell ASCAP), starting with the Javelinas the second Friday of every month. Really, we enjoy trying out different things because it makes our jobs more interesting. And it makes for something different going on in Urbana for our customers.
Why should people try out Paradiso?
People who like to spend time in a cafe need to find the one that suits them. It’s important to feel some kind of connection. One should try out all the cafes in town and determine which one fits.