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Student-Run Knoblauch Cafe Provides Unique Learning Experience

March 22, 2022

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MACOMB, IL - The Knoblauch Cafe, a campus restaurant open weekly and run by Western Illinois University students, has reopened for the Spring semester. The cafe offers carry-out meals for $8 from 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. each Thursday that can be picked up in the Knoblauch Hall Corporate Kitchen, room 238. Each meal includes an entree, a beverage and a dessert.

Jill Cassady, instructor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration, took over the course in 2010. Then, the cafe was named "Western Lites" and focused on offering low-calorie options for the campus community. Now, the cafe focuses more on creating a menu and serving meals that appeal to as many people as possible, preparing students for careers in larger-scale food service operations.

"This course teaches students many necessary skills, one being time management. We start cooking at 9:30 a.m. and have to have meals ready by 11:30 a.m.," said Cassady. "Even if we aren't ready by then, the customers will be."

Olivia Semande and Ashley Bowles, students in Cassady's course, shared insight into their unique experiences in the classroom this semester.

"The Knoblauch Cafe is a great learning experience for students who want to be hands-on with their major," said Semande.

Bowles added, "The Knoblauch Cafe has taught me important daily skills like how to time manage, work as a team, and sharpen my listening skills. Professor Cassady has done a fantastic job of getting her students prepared for real-life restaurant work. I can't wait to continue on this semester and cook some amazing meals for the community."

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cafe ran as a fully functioning, dine-in restaurant. In Spring 2020, the cafe, like the rest of the campus, closed until further notice. Last Spring, the restaurant returned in a carry-out-only format.

"In the last few years, we have not had the dine-in option due to COVID. We are hoping to add this back in when possible," said Cassady. "This was a necessary experience for students because many of them might not have server experience. Having one-on-one interaction with the customers is important. With pick-up, they still get some of that experience, but there is definitely something lost without the dine-in factor."

Even without the dine-in option, the Cafe still manages to serve from 30-70 members of the campus community on a weekly basis. Anyone, regardless of whether they are affiliated with WIU, is welcome to make a reservation.

Students who are involved with the Cafe get the opportunity at the end of the semester to review statistics regarding the number of reservations for specific meals, and the cost and profit of each meal. The students are then asked for feedback on the meals and specific menu items in an effort to improve the menu options with each passing year.

"It's been interesting to have the students be the ones to evaluate the meals because they are the ones doing the work. They really understand how labor-intensive and stressful some meals can be to prepare," said Cassady. "It's really good to get their honest feedback and utilize it to improve the Knoblauch Cafe."

Reservations are highly recommended for the Knoblauch Cafe. Reservations can be made by visiting

Posted By: Rachel Greene (
Office of University Communications & Marketing