2021 SIUE East St. Louis Cafe of Champions Challenge
Submission Deadline05/18/2021

The 2021 SIUE East St. Louis Café of Champions Challenge is an opportunity for local catering and/or restaurant entrepreneurs to showcase their talent for a chance to win $4,500 in cash prizes and a grand prize of 1- year rent and utility free commercial kitchen/cafe space on the East St. Louis Higher Education Center (ESLHEC).

The ESLHEC serves as a national model for how metropolitan universities and colleges can leverage expertise in order to demonstrate impact in a high-needs community. ESLHEC is a place that inspires, prepares and connects youth and adults to opportunities to reach their full potential. The campus includes three higher education institutions, a charter high school, a full-service community library, a community care clinic, a community dental clinic, early childhood care, and is home to several state and federally funded programs and partners.

The winning finalist will have the opportunity to provide high-quality dining and catering options, not only to the ESLHEC but also the surrounding community.

To participate in the 2021 Café of Champions Challenge, prospective applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Operations must be headquartered in the nine-county Metro East region (Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph).
  • Applicants are elligible for up to 20 additional points if they meet the following criteria
    • +10 points for businesses or ventures that are headquartered in the following zip codes: 62201, 62202, 62203, 62204, 62205, 62206, 62207 and 62208.
    • +10 points will be awarded to businesses or ventures that are minority-owned, woman-owned, or disabled veteran-owned.
  • Applicant must meet industry size standards established by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
  • Applicant must demonstrate successful experience regularly catering events with 200 or more attendees.
  • Winning applicant MUST BE available to start café operations on July 1, 2021.


The Challenge includes three (3) rounds. The first round consists of a questionnaire and executive summary submittal for all applicants meeting the eligibility guidelines. The second round is a business plan submittal, and will be open only to first-round participants who are invited to submit. The third round is the final sample, menu-tasting competition, open only to second round finalists. 

  • February 17: First Round Application Open
  • April 3: First Round Application/Executive Summary Deadline (11:59 pm)
  • April 10: Judges Complete and Submit Evaluations
  • April 12: Semi-Finalists Announced/Second Round Opens
  • April 25: Mentor-Semifinalist Networking Event (Virtual)  3-4 pm
  • May 7: Business Plan Prep Class  (Virtual) 3-4:30 pm
  • May 18: Second Round Condensed Business Plan Deadline (11:59 pm)
  • May 24: Judges Complete and Submit Evaluations
  • May 25: Announcement of Finalists
  • May 27: Catering/Café Pitch Prep Class  (Virtual) 3-4 pm
  • Jun 4: Final Sample Menu Taste Test & Judging--Finalist #1 (ESLHEC Café)
  • Jun 5: Final Sample Menu Taste Test & Judging--Finalist #2 (ESLHEC Café)
  • Jun 7: Final Sample Menu Taste Test & Judging--Finalist #3 (ESLHEC Café)
  • Jun 10: Grand Prize Winner Announced
  • Jul 1: 1st Prize Winner Begins Operation in ESLHEC Cafe
Reach out to Ali Vlahos at avlahos@siue.edu or Jo Ann Di Maggio May at gdimagg@siue.edu with any questions.

The Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East at SIUE (SBDC) and Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) ESLHEC Leadership Board reserve the right to use any material prepared for competition for the purpose of publicizing and promoting the event. The SBDC reserves the right to videotape any portion of the competition. The SBDC may use these materials for print, video or other medium uses for publication or any other purpose. 

Changes to Competition Rules: While not anticipated, competition rules and prizes are subject to change at any time. Interpretation of the rules will be at the sole discretion of the SBDC and ICCB ESLHEC Leadership Board.

Decisions Regarding the Competition and the Winners: All decisions regarding the competition rules, procedures, and processes are at the sole discretion of the SBDC and ICCB ESLHEC Leadership Board. Changes and/or interpretation of these rules may be made at any time, even though they may be (or may appear to be) in conflict with some previously established public information. The selection of teams and winners is at the sole discretion of the judges, SBDC and ICCB ESLHEC Leadership Board.

Confidentiality: The competition considers all submitted business plans as confidential and treats them accordingly. But, due to nature of the event, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality of proprietary matters. SIUE, sponsors, and organizers of the competition are not responsible for any proprietary information and/or intellectual property included in a submitted business plan.

Ultimately, protection of sensitive materials such an intellectual property, copyright, or patent confidentiality is the sole responsibility of the individual or team participating in the competition. Non-Disclosure Agreements will not be signed by judges, mentors or any SIUE staff associated with the competition.

Event Photos
Event Videos