Cowboy Monkey has been a go-to place in Champaign for Southwest and Mexican cuisine. I was able to chat with Ava Gomez, an employee there, who told me all about its beautiful patio space as well as what a day in her life is like on some of her busiest days.

We were also able to discuss how things at Cowboy Monkey will start to look different as COVID-19 lightens up. She says that outdoor patio seating and igloos are all fun additions that the cafe will definitely keep for over the summer, but she can’t wait to bring back some normalcy to her job and revitalize some customer interaction. Make sure to head to Cowboy Monkey for great ambiance and delicious food by professional chefs.


The exterior of Cowboy Monkey shows outdoor seating, the placard above the door, and a bright sunny day. Photo from Aroma Cafe's Facebook page.Photo from Aroma Cafe's Facebook page.

Smile Politely: Hello! Can you introduce yourself?

Ava Gomez: My name is Ava Gomez, and I have been working at Cowboy Monkey since August 2020.

SP: I'd love to hear about a day-in-the-life working at Cowboy Monkey. Can you share what a day is like?

Gomez: When I get to work, usually I help set up the server stations and the bar. That usually takes about an hour, and if you open, you come in at 3 in the afternoon. Then, once 4 p.m. hits, it usually starts to pick up. Tuesdays and the weekends are really busy days for us. 

Aroma Cafe is now inside Cowboy Monkey. We're right next to Nando's and across the street from Bling Pig's beer garden. The reason for moving Aroma Cafe into Cowboy Monkey was just to combine successful businesses during COVID-19.

SP: How do you like your location in Downtown Champaign? Can you describe the ambiance?

Gomez: The location is great! We are just off of Neil Street, and we have some great neighbors like Nando's, Guido's, and Blind Pig.

Four tacos are spaced evenly, two up top and two on the bottom, on a wooden cutting board. Photo by Andy Hart.Photo by Andy Hart.

SP: Can you talk about the menu? What's on it and what's your favorite?

Gomez: The menu is a Southwest and Mexican menu with tacos, burritos, salads, and that sort of thing. Our chefs are so talented. I almost always get food to go when I work a shift. My favorite thing on the menu is the zucchini taco.

SP: Can you talk about the drinks? Any customer favorites?

Gomez: The drink menu is so fun and varies widely. We will be updating a summer menu sometime soon, so that will be exciting. A lot of people get the Cowboy Cosmo.

SP: Cowboy Monkey brunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays. What was the inspiration for that brunch menu? Does Aroma serve coffee then as well?

Gomez: Our chefs cook such great lunch and dinner items that we figured might as well try brunch! Aroma serves coffee and smoothies also during brunch.

Three pancakes with a red jam syrup and two cups of sauce on a white plate from Cowboy Monkey. Photo by Andy Hart.Photo by Andy Hart.

SP: What's the most popular dish on the brunch menu?

Gomez: The sonora omelette is by far the most ordered dish.

SP: Do you have any seasonal specials that customers can look out for? If so, what are they?

Gomez: Aroma and Cowboy both make lots of great seasonal coffees and cocktails. so definitely pop in for a treat.

SP: What changes did you have to make at Cowboy Monkey in the pandemic?

Gomez: We just had to make changes in sanitization practices, as well as the igloos during the winter. We adjusted very well, and we are happy to be back into the warmer weather.

Cowboy Monkey's torta sits on a white plate. Photo by Andy Hart.Photo by Andy Hart.

SP: What changes do you think will be permanent? Any changes you hope will change back?

Gomez: I think that sanitization practices will be a permanent thing in the food and serving industry. I hope one day we go back to not having to wear a mask just to have more face-to-face interaction with customers. However, be sure to mask up until then.

SP: How is Cowboy Monkey doing now? When are the popular times?

Gomez: We are doing fine right now. Summer is prime time for Cowboy, though. We have an awesome patio space. The busiest hours are from 6 to 10 at nights, and on the mornings of brunch, we are busy from 10:30 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon.

SP: Will the outdoor seating be available all summer?

Gomez: Yes.

Inside Cowboy Monkey, there are several beers on top and string lights above. Photo from Cowboy Monkey's Facebook page.Photo from Cowboy Monkey's Facebook page.

SP: How can customers enjoy your food and beverages now?

Gomez: You can always come inside to eat or on the patio, or order to go.

SP: Anything else you'd like to share?

Gomez: The staff is great, and we are always sharing a laugh together: a very fun and high energy crowd!

Aroma Cafe
6 E Taylor St
Champaign
M-F 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa+Su 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Top image by Andy Hart.