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Day and night

Photo by: Christine Walsh

There is no such thing as a slow time at Seven Saints. We visited at 2 p.m. on a record-breaking cold day, and there was still a respectable crowd in the downtown Champaign restaurant.

Located at 32 E. Chester St., Seven Saints isn’t just a bar for nightlife.

General Manager Anne Clark came from Miami to Illinois for graduate school. She served and bartended during her college and grad school years and has been working at Seven Saints almost 10 years; the business opened in May 2007. In May 2012 she was promoted from her role as assistant manager when the previous general manager moved out of town.

“While Seven Saints has delicious food that is consistent and appealing, a lot of the foundation of what makes Seven Saints distinctive is we always create an environment where people feel welcomed and comfortable,” Clark said. “It takes a commitment from everybody here.”

Staffers are trained with a set of core values known as the Saintly Sentiments. Those values include timeliness of food service and being helpful, taking pride in work and having the humility to be able to ask for help, communicating well with the team, maintaining table quality so that guests can enjoy their experience, having a staff knowledgeable about the items available and having passion for the place. “Great values don’t necessarily all relate directly to food,” Clark said. “It’s not just being friendly and kind, but being helpful and also having a sense of urgency and paying attention to detail. It’s not just being proud to be a part of Seven Saints but extends beyond these four walls. It’s something that not everybody gets the opportunity to do.”

One of the menu items Seven Saints is most known for is its cheese curds. The cheese comes fresh every week from the Ropp Jersey Dairy in Normal. “They’re hand-battered to order,” Clark said. “It’s a distinctive batter and larger than most cheese curds.”

Seven Saints is also known for its variety of sliders, ranging from the spicier and more exotic to milder ones like the California turkey slider with avocado and pesto. Clark said the salads are also popular because they’re substantial enough for a meal. The most popular one is probably the summer salmon salad featuring a homemade honey-poblano salsa vinaigrette, she added.

A popular lunch option is the Triple “S” Combo Platter that combines a slider with a half salad and side order, a slider and half salad with a cup of soup or a slider with a side order and a cup of soup. Carryout is available. “The food is what everybody immediately loves,” Clark said. “The food is prepared with care.”

Buffet-style platter options are available for in-house private events.

The cocktail list is not limited to what’s printed on the menu but can include whatever the bartenders can “creatively explore,” she added. “We choose breweries that show that same care in their product,” Clark said.

The same goes for the spirits Seven Saints serves. “These concepts and values take shape in a lot of what we serve,” Clark said.

Whether guests are at Seven Saints for a weekday business lunch or a Saturday night, the staff aims for “the experience to fit what they need at the time,” Clark said. “The menu and the service can be malleable.”

Some customers have met on a first date and then come back years later to propose at the same table. Some have marked more somber occasions, going there to celebrate the life of a regular who passed away. One customer who was undergoing treatment for cancer had lost her appetite but still enjoyed one of the soups and the camaraderie there. “So much of her journey was being able to find a comfortable place,” Clark said. “It meant so much to her.”

Seven Saints used to consist of only two rooms but has now been extended to include an annex space next door that can be rented for private gatherings and a beer garden that’s open in warmer weather. The extra real estate has allowed Seven Saints to host live music performances. And now they are hosting free open mic storytelling nights with Do Not Submit on the fourth Tuesday of every month, during which people from all walks of life come together to share personal stories.

There’s a vertical garden on pallets where herbs are grown for cocktails. And now hops are being grown outside as well for a decorative effect.

Seasonal dishes are developed for occasions like Mardi Gras and Lent. And most dishes can be customized to meet customers’ dietary restrictions.

The building’s high ceilings give it a cathedral-like look. Archways are thematic throughout the building. The Gothic cathedral-style chandeliers get the most attention from customers, according to Clark. “It’s kind of a church-like feel,” she said, noting that that’s where the name Seven Saints originated. “It has the warm colors.” While much of the restaurant’s lighting has been replaced with LED lights, incandescent lighting was preserved with some of the accent lighting to keep the warm atmosphere. Lights are dimmed as the evening wears on, and the bartenders adjust the music to fit the feel of the room, Clark explained.

Seven Saints is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday and Monday and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with the kitchen open until 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The website is sevensaintsbar.com.

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