Soul food is something a lot of people hold close to their hearts, and now it’s in the Champaign-Urbana area. The Yellow Canary Café has opened in the Lincoln Square Mall, bringing in a plethora of comfort food items to choose from for community members living in the area and college students who miss their favorite indulgences from home.

Owned by Travon Monroe Pickens, the Yellow Canary placed itself in Urbana because Pickens grew up in Urbana. He even attended Urbana High School. Pickens also recognizes that Urbana has a good food scene and was in desperate need of soul food.

Marissa S. Abernathy, Pickens fiancee, makes the homemade ice cream for the restaurant. Abernathy explained that the reason soul food became Pickens’s mainstay was soul food because his grandmother taught him how to cook.

“Cooking has been in his family for decades,” she said. “(His grandmother) ran two or three restaurants.”

The family-oriented atmosphere of the Yellow Canary is one thing that they believe will draw in new customers. “Everybody is very welcoming and respectful,” Abernathy said. 

Along with that, right after walking inside the Lincoln Square Mall, the bright yellow walls of the café draw patrons in from the rest of the mall and offers an inviting environment to sit down.

Abernathy believes that the chicken sandwich is the best item available on their menu.

“It has been a real top seller,” she said.

Though the menu changes daily, customers can find items like smothered pork chops, country-style beef ribs and fried chicken wings mentioned on the menu.

Abernathy’s homemade ice cream comes in a variety of flavors such as lemon delight and Oreo cookies and cream. But the café also features a variety of other desserts including sweet potato pie and cheesecake, banana pudding, and strawberry-lemon cake are just some deserts offered at the café.

Pickens’ grandmother inspired the name of the restaurant. “Canary Yellow was her favorite color,” Abernathy says. “He[Pickens] wanted to do the grand opening on her birthday.”

And while his grandmother is no longer alive, Abernathy said she had a large impact on his life.

Keeping in contact with the restaurant is relatively easy. Whether it’s through the Facebook page for the café, or by reaching out to either Pickens or Abernathy’s personal pages, the Yellow Canary is highly accessible. However, that isn’t to say that classic communication techniques aren’t used.

Word of mouth still reigns supreme for cafés such as the Yellow Canary, as they build a community of patrons that discuss and spread the restaurant’s message.

Pickens and Abernathy are happy with the space the restaurant currently occupies, but Abernathy said they are interested in moving to a bigger location in the future. For right now, their main motive is the get the word out about the Yellow Canary Cafe.

Pickens received one thousand dollars from the Champaign-Urbana Community for the Yellow Canary Cafe from the city of Urbana at the opening event for the restaurant. After working with the Black Chamber of Commerce as well as the Urbana Business Association, Pickens went through an application process that resulted in him receiving the reward from those organizations.

Yet another distinct feature of the restaurant, the Yellow Canary is one of the new black-owned businesses in the Urbana area. Buy Black Chambana, the Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce, and the Urbana Business Association sponsored the opening event to foster support from the black community.

What the Yellow Canary wants college kids to know is that soul food based places are hard to find in this area, and if they’re looking for comfort, “that’s the place to go.”

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