Smile Politely

Coffee and tiramisu paradise at Caffe Paradiso

For years, Caffe Paradiso has been the cozy corner of campus for U of I students to come study, hang out, and take pictures in front of the beautiful murals. I had the pleasure of interviewing the daughter of the owner of Caffe Paradiso and hear about the intricacies of the business and daily pleasures of working at the Caffe. 

Dana Yun, daughter of the owner, poses for a portrait outside of Caffe Paradiso in Urbana. Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

Smile Politely: Hi! Can you share your name and role at Caffe Paradiso?

Dana Yun: I’m Dana, and I’m the owner’s daughter!

SP: What is a regular day like working at Caffe Paradiso?

Yun: It’s a lot slower, especially now that school is off and also Governor Pritzker made the order to close indoor seating. So now, rather than having multiple workers in one shift, we just have one worker per shift. We’re still very grateful; there are a lot of loyal customers who still come by and give us business. And because of the holidays, there were more people buying gift cards and fake coffee bags and things like that. We’re very grateful for that, but of course, it’s been very slow.

SP: Caffe Paradiso has a lovely ambiance. Can you tell us how you foster that?

Yun: We’re just cozy, I guess! We try to keep everything clean and organized, but we also just try to keep it a cozy and thrown together environment. We were able to dispose of all of our chairs and get new chairs just so that they all match. A lot of our furniture is from garage sales, thrifting, or flea markets and that kind of thing. So we think it’s really cool to have all these unique pieces, and it’s really wonderful talking to customers who are regulars and seeing what their favorite spot is in the cafe. Over the years, our business has grown, so a lot of students know about our little corner of campus now. A lot of students come to the cafe to study, so we installed a bar to get more seating.

Also, President Obama came, and that was amazing! You’ve also probably seen that our walls are painted, and it changes every few years. A lot of our baristas are somewhere in the art realm, and sometimes some of them will ask to paint a wall or paint the bathroom, and we highly encourage that because we think it’s so wonderful and representative of who we are and what we foster.

A brightly lit interior photo of Caffe Paradiso with empty tables. Photo by Caffe Paradiso.

Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

SP: As you were talking about how many students visit the cafe, what would you say is a customer favorite menu item?

Yun: We do have our seasonal specials which do pretty well. We had our honeycomb toffee latte over the summer which was pretty popular. Now we have our peppermint mocha and our ‘London Smog’ with boba and lavender tea with a shot of espresso — which is amazing. I think dessert-wise, our tiramisu is pretty amazing; President Obama also had that. The owner bakes them fresh here at the cafe, and so that is also a very popular item for people of all ages.

SP: Are there any underrated or hidden gems on the menu?

Yun: Sometimes we have interesting desserts. We have sweet potato cake which is also pretty popular, but it’s something that is a little more out there in the United States. A lot of people who have tried it and loved it — and always come here for more since we are one of the only places that sells it.

Any of our espresso drinks are really amazing. We have high quality espresso that is roasted in Chicago. Roasted coffee beans should be treated like fresh produce since it doesn’t last very long once it’s roasted. Once it’s roasted, that fresh flavor dwindles after some time. So we are very proud to have fresh coffee beans that we grind ourselves and prepare very wonderfully. If people have that taste for coffee, then any of our espresso drinks are amazing.

A homemade strawberry cake from Caffe Paradiso on a clear small plate. Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

SP: Related to your freshly roasted coffee beans, all of your menu items are made from scratch, right?

Yun: Our coffee beans are roasted by intelligentsia in Chicago. Some of our baked goods are from the CU Bakehouse. Some of the desserts (mainly the tiramisu) we make in house, and some of the cookies and things like that.

SP: Great! What would you say is the hardest drink or item to make?

Yun: There’s not really anything that comes to mind. I think all of our workers are well-trained to make everything really well and really efficiently. Any milkshakes or frozen things we have to grind are sometimes kind of a pain just because there are many components and areas to work through.

A crisp shot of espresso pouring into a red mug at Caffe Paradiso. Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

SP: What are the winter specials right now?

Yun: We have the crème brûlée latte which has caramel syrup, toasted marshmallow syrup, and toasted sugar crystals on top. We have the peppermint mocha which is a mocha with peppermint syrup and whipped cream with crushed candy cane on top. We also have the London smog, which I mentioned earlier, which has tea, steamed milk, lavender, and a shot of espresso which is wonderful and warm.

SP: That sounds delicious! Can you also talk about Caffe Paradiso’s drive to lower single use disposables?

Yun: Especially during this pandemic, it’s been very difficult. We are trying to think of solutions. We are allowing people to bring their own cups at the moment. Climate change is the number one threat to coffee beans since they only grow in a very specific area. So especially coffee drinkers, if you want to keep your coffee, it might be all gone by 2050.

If you want to keep your coffee, I highly encourage all coffee drinkers to bring their own reusable cups to coffee shops that do accept them. Our baristas are trained well and make sure to wash their hands before and after handling your cup. Also, customers take off the lid, so that there is minimal touching. We also used to let customers use our own reusable mugs during outdoor seating because research has shown that just sanitizing our dishes in our industrial dishwasher will significantly lower the risk of COVID-19. We also offer a 25 cent discount if you bring your own mug, and we’ve had that for forever. I am studying material engineering at UIUC, so brainstorming ideas to maximise reusable products is definitely something I’m looking at.

SP: Is there anything else besides bringing personal mugs that CU members can do to support Caffe Paradiso?

Yun: We’ve been so grateful to the loyal customers who come all the time! During the holidays, people were buying gift cards — which we are very grateful for. Buying those bags of coffee beans to give to your loved ones, we can grind it up for you or you can take those whole beans home and grind it yourself. We can make cookies and cakes made to order, so if you have any parties coming up over the break, feel free to call us or message on social media. Overall, continued service is the best way to support us.

Caffe Paradiso customers line up socially distanced outside of the cashier to buy their drinks. Photo by Caffe Paradiso.

Photo provided by Caffe Paradiso.

SP: Anything else you would like to share?

Yun: We are very grateful for the people who have been responsible indoors by wearing their masks and staying six feet apart even when it’s cold and things like that. So yeah, we have so much love for the people in our community who are helping to stop the spread of the virus not only at Caffe Paradiso but also in the whole town in general so that we can hopefully get back to normal and provide our lovely students with places to study and hang out!

Caffe Paradiso
801 S Lincoln Avenue
M-F 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sa 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Su 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Top image provided by Caffe Paradiso.

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