Reality of small-town America: Newman business owner shares struggles, new plans to keep restaurant alive

NEWMAN, Ill. (WCIA) — “You have a bad week, you don’t have enough to pay the bills? What are you going to do?” That’s one of the questions Erica Quednau-Burris is constantly thinking about as a business owner in Central Illinois.

She’s not the only one drowning in the harsh reality of knowing the business may be forced to close. But, she’s working hard to find a way above the surface — willing to do anything to stay in the community.

Newman is home to about 800 people in Douglas County. There’s an American Legion, a Post Office and a small strip of stores in the middle of town. But, with prices rising and people bouncing back post-COVID, it’s been tough to keep some doors open.

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Grilling burgers and taking orders is one small part of a typical day for employees at the Corn Crib in Newman.

Quednau-Burris and her husband, Scott, enjoy running a place where everyone can gather to eat good food.

“The Corn Crib is a small town family-owned restaurant and bar,” she explained. “We’re doing this for the community.”

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Lately, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Owning a restaurant is sometimes easier said than done.

“Finances have been a struggle,” Quednau-Burris said. “We are doing our best, and we are taking some money out of our own pocket to help keep this place going.”

They’re not the only ones facing the harsh reality in small-town America.

“I think that our inflation in the last two, three, four years has affected a lot of folks,” Steve Littlefield with the Littlefield Group said.

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He knows there is a way out.

“I think you have to be community-minded or an area-minded business,” he explained. “When you do that, hopefully, good things start to happen for you.”

So, that’s the angle Quednau-Burris took. It started by making a survey online and posting it on Facebook. Customers started speaking up, and she listened.

“We changed up our menu a little bit, we changed up our hours a little bit, focused on customer service,” she said.

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Those small changes are making a big difference. On Feb. 1, they hosted a “customer appreciation day” to unveil new menu changes. Quednau-Burris said there was no better feeling than seeing people coming in.

“It was just so great to see people in here again. It was loud, it was fun, it was just really nice,” she described.

The business owner is optimistic the momentum will carry on into the future.

“All small businesses right now are working their butts off, just give them a shot,” she said. “Give them all a chance, you may find something great.”

To keep business booming, Quednau-Burris said to stop in or connect on their Facebook page. At the end of the day, she wants the restaurant to have a warm and cozy feel as if you’re getting a big hug when you walk inside. She wants everyone’s honest feedback to create a fun atmosphere and a good time.

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