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October 26, 2022

Rosemary Ferrara shares her story working in restaurants and the ups and downs that led her to her current position as a bartender at the Rose Bowl Tavern.

By Gwyn Skiles, Staff Writer October 25, 2022

Forty years ago, in Paxton, Illinois, a young woman sat in a chair in the back of her father’s Italian restaurant, Mama Ferrara’s, and watched her mother teach her how to roll silverware. Rosemary Ferrara, known in Champaign-Urbana as the Rose Bowl Tavern waitress with a laugh and an appetite for conversation, has worked in restaurants since she was little. “My first bartending shift was for my mom’s 40th birthday,” Ferrara said. “She built a stage in the parking lot of our restaurant. I was 10 (years old) at the time… from the beginning, I loved everything about it.” Ferrara said her parents gave her everything she needed to succeed. Her father, an immigrant from Corato, Italy, gave her his business mindset, and her mother gave her a passion for meeting other people. “My brother has none of that,” Ferrara said with a laugh. “Like, he’s a cop.” However, Ferrara was not always natural. When she was 21, she said she was fired three times from her first job as a manager at The Great Impasta, which is now closed. “I was very young and I was a hot mess,” Ferrara said. “A year later, (they) were like, ‘Are you ready to come back?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, thank you.’” Ferrara started consulting for different restaurants like Black Dog Smoke & Ale House and Watson’s Shack & Trail in the Champaign-Urbana area. She said it would be a constant force for owners looking to do business in a difficult industry. But it was exhausting work, and Ferrara said she was starting to wear out. “I remember opening Watson’s, and I went to bed one night, (and) my ex-husband said, ‘Did you eat today? “He said, ‘That’s not enough,’ so he brought me a bagel, and I sat on the bed and ate it with my eyes closed the entire time.” Ferrara was hired at the Rose Bowl Tavern shortly before the A demic pan began, and his first training shift was scheduled the same night that Gov. Pritzker announced the shutdown. “I just saw my beloved industry hit like never before,” said Ferrara. “We lost a lot of our favorite bars and venues… So being at the Rose Bowl and being a part of the revival of the Champaign-Urbana scene was phenomenal.” Music has always been a big part of his life, and Ferrara said that being a part of preserving live music in the community is a great honor. She said she majored in journalism at Columbia College Chicago and used to dream of working for Rolling Stone magazine. Now, she helps create content for the Rose Bowl, combining her two passions. “I just wanted to be surrounded by musicians and write about them,” said Ferrara. “I can do this while I’m also a bartender.” Ferrara said she has many favorite events and performances to choose from, but she loves seeing jazz students grow over time on the program. “I joke that I’m their mother and that they’re my jazz babies,” Ferrara said. “I love to bring shy people out of their shell.” Whether students or locals, Ferrara said it is one of the greatest pleasures to witness people grow. “There are people that I wait for the first date I see get engaged, and then I get a baby announcement,” Ferrara said. “Champaign-Urbana is a city of transition. It’s a springboard for many people. The best part of working in this industry, whether it’s a restaurant or a bar, is being part of people’s milestones in their lives.” [protected email]

Forty years ago, in Paxton, Illinois, a young woman sat in a chair in the back of her father’s Italian restaurant, Mama Ferrara’s, and watched her mother teach her how to roll silverware.

Rosemary Ferrara, known in Champaign-Urbana as the Rose Bowl Tavern waitress with a laugh and an appetite for conversation, has worked in restaurants since she was little.

“My first bartending shift was for my mom’s 40th birthday,” Ferrara said. “She built a stage in the parking lot of our restaurant. I was 10 (years old) at the time… from the beginning, I loved everything about it.”

Ferrara said her parents gave her everything she needed to succeed.

Her father, an immigrant from Corato, Italy, gave her his business mindset, and her mother gave her a passion for meeting other people.

“My brother has none of that,” Ferrara said with a laugh. “Like, he’s a cop.”

However, Ferrara was not always natural. When she was 21, she said she was fired three times from her first job as a manager at The Great Impasta, which is now closed.

“I was very young and I was a hot mess,” Ferrara said. “A year later, (they) were like, ‘Are you ready to come back?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, thank you.’”

Ferrara started consulting for different restaurants such as Black Dog Smoke & Ale House and Watson’s Shack & Trail in the Champaign-Urbana area. She said it would be a constant force for owners looking to do business in a difficult industry.

But it was exhausting work, and Ferrara said she was starting to wear out.

“I remember opening Watson’s, and I went to bed one night, (and) my ex-husband said, ‘Did you eat today? “He said, ‘That’s not enough,’ so he brought me a bagel, and I sat on the bed and ate it with my eyes closed the entire time.”

Ferrara was hired at the Rose Bowl Tavern shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, and her first training shift was scheduled the same night Governor Pritzker announced the shutdown.

“I just saw my beloved industry hit like never before,” said Ferrara. “We lost a lot of our favorite bars and venues… So being at the Rose Bowl and being a part of the revival of the Champaign-Urbana scene was phenomenal.”

Music has always been a big part of his life, and Ferrara said that being a part of preserving live music in the community is a great honor. She said she majored in journalism at Columbia College Chicago and used to dream of working for Rolling Stone magazine.

Now, she helps create content for the Rose Bowl, combining her two passions.

“I just wanted to be surrounded by musicians and write about them,” said Ferrara. “I can do this while I’m also a bartender.”

Ferrara said she has many favorite events and performances to choose from, but she loves seeing jazz students grow over time on the program.

“I joke that I’m their mother and that they’re my jazz babies,” Ferrara said. “I love to bring shy people out of their shell.”

Whether students or locals, Ferrara said it is one of the greatest pleasures to witness people grow.

“There are people that I wait for the first date I see get engaged, and then I get a baby announcement,” Ferrara said. “Champaign-Urbana is a city of transition. It’s a springboard for many people. The best part of working in this industry, whether it’s a restaurant or a bar, is being part of people’s milestones in their lives.”