By FRED KRONER
Carolyn Farren grew up in the Chicago area, but moved to Champaign-Urbana to attend school at the University of Illinois.
She was a biochemistry major.
Working her way through college, she had jobs working at bars and at restaurants.
She then spent time as a wine consultant and as the general manager at Silvercreek Restaurant, in Urbana.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at the time,” Farren said.
When the new century dawned, she and her husband Brian had the chance to buy what had been a bar (Creamy’s) on Randolph St., near downtown Champaign.
“We decided to turn it into a restaurant,” Farren said.
Farren’s Pub and & Eatery opened its doors on Feb. 18, 2000.
Carolyn Farren had a plan for the facility, which can seat about 60, including the bar area.
“My husband was more meat and potatoes,” she said. “I was more of a foodie. I wanted to do something more interesting.
“I was more focused on a menu with American food with a lot of specials with fish and pasta.”
Of course, the restaurant also served an obligatory assortment of burgers.
As time passed, Farren’s developed a reputation that extended beyond Champaign and Urbana.
People liked the burgers; really liked the burgers.
When publications picked “the best of” in various categories, Farren’s was right up at the top of the list for best burgers. As far back as 2007, the restaurant was among the top three when local rankings were compiled.
In 2017, College Raptor selected a top 15 list for burgers in college towns.
Farren’s came in at No. 5 nationally, behind establishments in Lincoln, Neb., College Station, Tex., Lawrence, Kan. and New Haven, Conn.
Last month, The News-Gazette published its annual People’s Choices awards.
In the categories of Best Burger and Best Sandwich, Farren’s came in at No. 1.
Also in August, TripAdvisor put out a national list of one best burger location for each state.
The Illinois representative was located at 308 N Randolph St. in Champaign: Farren’s.
And, on Thursday, Smile Politely weighed in with its online listings for the best burger joints in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy.
The previous pattern was repeated: Farren’s was the choice, with the Smile Politely editorial board writing, “Farren’s is a burger destination.”
All this recognition is for a restaurant which opened without intending to specialize in burgers.
Mahomet resident Carolyn Farren is in a state of disbelief.
“I’m still pinching myself,” she said. “TripAdvisor was a complete surprise, kind of unbelievable.”
Though Farren’s has consistently been recognized in recent years, Carolyn Farren added, “I always appreciate it and never take it for granted.
“I’m grateful for the community support. We have incredible regulars who have been with me since the day we opened.”
Those who scour the restaurant’s menu will notice selections beyond the obvious — included are salads, other sandwiches, chicken tacos, vegetarian items — but there is a vast assortment of burger choices.
That is now by design.
“Seven or eight years ago, when we had a reputation for good burgers, we got away from other specials,” Carolyn Farren said, “and focused more on burgers.”
It was a bittersweet realization for the co-owner.
“I like doing the nicer specials,” she said, “but this is what made Farren’s kind of famous in our small community.”
So, why are the burgers so highly regarded?
Carolyn Farren has a theory.
“All of our meat is cut just for us by (Champaign’s) Old Time Meat & Deli Shop,” Carolyn Farren said.
A customer offered a second opinion a while back.
“He said everything I do is with love, and that’s what makes it a good burger,” Carolyn Farren said.
She also has a committed group of employees.
“I have an incredible staff of people who have been with me years and years,” she said.
One cook has been on the job for nine years. One server has worked at Farren’s more than seven years.
In the past, there were multiple employees with a tenure of more than 12 years.
If the truth were told, Farren’s might also win honors in one other category (which has not yet been created): What is the best hidden restaurant in Champaign-Urbana?
Business increased, Carolyn Farren said, after the August recognition was published.
A number of the newcomers, however, told a similar story.
“A ton of people said they didn’t know it was there,” she said. “Probably our No. 1 call is, ‘Where are you located?’ “
Farren’s doesn’t have a streetfront presence and is located beside an alley, but Carolyn Farren added, “it has its charm. It’s kind of speakeasyesque, but at the same time, if people can’t find it, you don’t know how many didn’t come because they don’t know where it is.”
Carolyn Farren no longer actively works the floor or in the kitchen, but is responsible for the day-to-day operations.
Nearly two decades in, one truth has become self-evident.
“One thing I’ve learned is you’ll never figure it out,” she said. “There is no rhyme or reason (for trends or to explain why things happen).
“Some weeks, we have more lunches. Other weeks, it’s the complete opposite.”
She is satisfied with the way the venture been accepted.
“It was not my goal, but it is what it has evolved into,” Carolyn Farren said.
Regardless of what is served, she said, “We always try to put out the best food.”
Farren and her husband have four children. Two daughters are still at home.
Reilly is a senior at Mahomet-Seymour and will graduate in December. Charley is a seventh-grader.
And, believe it or not, Carolyn Farren is aware of some restaurant customers who have not ordered a certain item from the menu.
“Some regulars who come in have never had a burger,” she said.
With the success of the Champaign restaurant, could a second location open up in Mahomet, the community where the family has called home since 2001?
“There was discussion at one point (about six months ago),” Carolyn Farren said. “Right now, it’s off the table, but you never know.”
Fortunately, one item is never off the table at Farren’s Pub & Eatery: the burgers.