After 30 years of hand-to-mouth operations, the Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant finds itself in a real bind. According to Herring staff member Chad Knowles, “For 30 years the Red Herring’s yearly losses have been subsidized by a generous supporter. The restaurant has never been able to sustain itself, always needing cash boosts throughout the year. Last Tuesday we were informed that our cushion of subsidization was to be no more, leaving me with the challenge of tidying up the business model so that it can turn a profit, raising $3,700 to pay back our standing loan and continuing to raise our customer base so as to end this school year with at least $2,000 in total. Right now, my main concern is raising $1,000 in the next three days. This will be the easiest of our challenges.” Knowles started a Facebook group to drum up support, and it looks like the tide is turning, but they still need your help to keep operating.
We asked some of our writers to share their Red Herring stories, and you can read them after the jump. Feel free to share your own stories in the comments. Even if you don’t click the rest of the article, though, please patronize the Red Herring for lunch any chance you get.
RED HERRING STORIES
“The Red Herring became part of my life during the Fall of 2004 and when it happened that Urbana was no longer a place where I was simply living, it became my home, a place in which I loved living. I started volunteering in the kitchen on Fridays from 8–1, cleaning dishes, making corn bread and eventually cooking with the previous staff Katie, Michael and Sherri. The volunteer hours provided me with free lunch Monday through Friday and along with the Krishna Dinner, I can honestly say that I ate better food that year than at any other time during my life. Further, I learned most of what I know about cooking and food from three amazing cooks who dedicated their hearts and several years of their lives to running the Red Herring. The same can be said of Chad, Ally and Bryce, and all the volunteers who work incredibly hard to make delicious and creative vegan meals from scratch. Nothing else in Champaign-Urbana can come close to matching the food, love and passion of the Red Herring, but I am confident that this is well known, and that with enough attention we can help keep the restaurant open.” – Pat Schmitz
“I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the Red Herring this year when I came back to C-U for grad school. It reminded me of being in Portland, Oregon, which is one of my favorite cities (and the home of some of my favorite relatives). On my first visit, I came up short 50 cents on my bill and was about to put my drink back when the cashier waved me on and said to come back again. So I did. … I’m not a vegan, but I’m always very cheered by acts of generosity done in the spur of the moment, and of course, I felt compelled to pay back those 50 cents.” – Betsi Freeman
“I first went to the Red Herring to meet with a TA that had his office hours there. It was my freshman year, and I was already jaded by the frat-tastic/Chief lovin’ campus. It didn’t seem like there was much more to the campus. My TA was one cool dude, and I became totally aware of that when I went to his office hours. I started going to the Red Herring a couple times a week to get some delicious soup and cornbread. It’s always been one of my favorite places to go solo, especially with a good book.” – Samantha Lee
“I first encountered the Red Herring as a concert space. Growing up in the Peoria area, I was reminded of all the wonderful basement spaces I had seen indie rock shows in as a teen. As a venue, the Red Herring felt like home. Then, I had my first meal there and quickly learned why so many people had recommended I check the place out. As more and more new chains open up on Green Street, the Red Herring grows ever more significant. It is truly a necessary reminder to all that diversity is something worth fighting for.” – Doug Hoepker
“I was not the only C.V. Lloyde guitar student to wander over to the Red Herring for the all ages open mic night. After restaurant hours, it still had an intimate atmosphere that made my first public performance a little less horrific. My knee shook enough to put a quaver in my voice. The small crowd was supportive, smiling and applauding after every song. I went back every two weeks. My knee never shook as much as the first time, but the applause was just as genuine. I’ll always be thankful to the Red Herring and its long-suffering staff for making that experience possible.” – Lindy Wheatley
“I came late to the Red Herring. I arrived in Urbana in 1996 but somehow didn’t manage to find my way there until a few years ago … and then I lamented and rended clothing because, lo! I had missed out for years! Where else could you go to get such diversity in vegan/vegetarian food, prepared with intention by people who not only knew what they were doing, but loved what they were doing? Where else could you go and be part of a lunchtime crowd, but still have an intimate meal with a good friend you haven’t seen for awhile? Oh, those big trays of cornbread and tureens of soup, the very staves of life when it’s ten degrees outside with a mean north wind!
“Like any good establishment, it’s never been just about the food. I admit I have never seen a band play there (hangs head in shame), but last year I participated on a panel about food justice that the Red Herring had graciously agreed to host. It was the perfect setting to discuss issues around food and fairness; our meal was simple, the surroundings modest. We had everything we needed.
“Let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep the Red Herring.” – Lisa Bralts-Kelly