Rockin' around at Rock's
By Shivani Khanna & Andrea Park
Gargoyle assistant editors
Posted Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, The OG, features
“HI, I'M KELLY Beck — what can I start you guys off with?”
It's a fine Friday afternoon, and Andrea Park and Shivani Khanna were desperately craving some good old-style bar food. Rock's, being a favorite restaurant of all Uni students, was the culinary establishment that came to mind to satisfy the aforementioned yearnings.
“Um …,” Park stumbled, “I'll have a water.”
“I'll have the same,” chimed Khanna, “and we'll also start with the spinach and artichoke dip.”
“What about for your main meal?” asked Beck.
Park ordered a cheeseburger with pasta salad while Khanna ordered the simple dish, spicy chicken fingers.
Beck scribbled the order down on her notepad and rushed back to the kitchen.
Follow the white ticket
Normally when dining out, one would sit at the table and engage in deep, intellectual conversation (or something of the sort) while waiting for the food. However, Khanna and Park quickly tired of each other's company and decided to go stimulate their minds in the kitchen.
- Where: 25 E. Springfield Ave., Champaign
- When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday thru Saturday; noon to 2 a.m. Sunday
- Why: Rock's has a taste that rivals any chain bar and grill, and the added benefit of a true hometown feel.
- For more info: Call (217) 239-7625
Rock's, an independent restaurant located at 25 E. Springfield Ave. in Champaign, differs from chains in that it doesn't rely entirely on prepackaged food. The kitchen workers “prep” the food each morning and add more ingredients as the day progresses.
“Rock's food is more fresh,” explained Rivers. “The food here is different from Applebee's or TGI Friday's because everything there is prepackaged.”
Rivers has had a lot of experience, having started his career in the restaurant business at the age of 12. Rivers used to work out Chili's but got “tired of the pressure and ‘crack of the whip' job” that corporate restaurants are notorious for.
He has been working at Rock's for three and a half years and helped open it with Rocky Ryan in 2003. (Rocky, by the way, is the father of Uni junior Katie Ryan.)
As chef manager, Rivers is the head chef, but he's also involved with managing the kitchen staff, scheduling shifts, and creating recipes for new items on the menu. In fact, many of River's favorite home recipes are featured on the menu at Rock's.
“The inspiration for the food comes from my family line, like the sauce and the breading for the fish,” said Rivers.
The meal that Park and Khanna ordered required the kitchen staff to venture into the cold abyss, more commonly known as the storage room-sized walk-in freezers. The Uni duo followed them into freezers that reached temperatures between minus 2 degrees and zero degrees F.
“Everything must be labeled and dated,” explained Rivers as he pointed to the various food items sitting on the metal shelves.
“Everything raw goes together, like the beef and chicken, all the vegetables have to go together, and the dairies too. We keep the liquids on the lower shelves so they don't leak onto the other foods. Produce goes on the warmer side so it doesn't freeze.”
Park and Khanna's ticket had slowly worked its way down the food line and had been witness to the spinach and artichoke dip getting baked, burger getting grilled, and the fingers getting fried. When the meal was finally completed the ticket sat on the side directing the waitress as to which table the hungry customers were sitting at.
When the food arrived, the pair hungrily devoured it until Khanna unexpectedly stopped.
“My throat's really dry,” she said. “This water is just not quenching my thirst.”
Park came up with a brilliant solution: “You should order a nonalcoholic beverage from the bar, considering that we're under 21 years of age.”
They made their way over to the bar, where Khanna ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri from bartender and manager Aaron Young. While the Uni juniors pleasantly sipped on this newfound delight, they attempted to make small talk with Young, like any seasoned bargoers would.
Young has been managing Rock's for the last year and a half. Before coming to Rock's, Young spent nine years working as a chef and bartender.
“It's fun [being a bartender],” said Young. “You can get creative when making the drinks. It's similar to when I worked as a chef at Café Luna.”
However, Young doesn't just have fun whipping up various tonics and gins.
“People get a little ridiculous sometimes and tell you weird stories about their lives,” he said. “There's this one guy who always starts off with something like, ‘You know so and so I work with …,' and he assumes that I remember our past conversations and can pick up right where we left off.”
Khanna and Park finished their meal and decided that their full stomachs were sending chemical messages to their brain urging them to take a nap. Yawning, they decided that Rock's, while it was an excellent restaurant, was nothing compared to the comforts of their own beds when it came to sleeping.
Park asked for the check from Beck, the waitress, but before leaving they asked her a few questions about her experiences waiting tables.
“As a waitress I try to make people happy,” she said. “When it gets really hectic I just have to go with the flow, although sometimes I wanna choke those super pushy moms.”
Fellow bartender and waitress Trischa Bates chimed in: “My largest pet peeve is that I hate it when people I know yell my name. Oh, and when people order a drink and I bring it over, and then they order another drink and I bring it over, etc.”
Although Beck immensely enjoys being a waitress and occasionally bartending, she doesn't completely enjoy the nighttime atmosphere of a bar and grill.
“It's really crowded at night and people are drunk and loud,” she said.
But Bates added: “All in all, this is a really good job to have. There is decent money and a lot of freedom.”
Before leaving, we left our waitress a sizeable tip for all of her hard work.
Content and more knowledgeable about the independent restaurant business, Khanna and Park walked out with satisfied stomachs and smiles on their faces, already looking forward to their next chance to come back.
— Audio slideshow: Behind the scenes at Rock's
— Daily Illini article: 2003 coverage of the opening of Rock's