Champaign bar reopens after manager who was shot shows improvement

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CHAMPAIGN — Pour Bros. Craft Taproom had been open for about 15 minutes on Thursday when its manager, Brandon Hardway, stepped outside for a cigarette and was shot in the back.

Jason Fowler, one of the owners of the Champaign bar, recalled hurrying downtown, not sure if his friend and employee was alive.

The bar remained closed through the weekend — a financial hit — but Fowler said it was an easy decision to make while staff worried about Hardway's life hanging in the balance.

Though Hardway remains hospitalized, Fowler sat at a Pour Bros. table Monday as it prepared to reopen at 5 p.m. Fowler said it was appropriate to unlock the bars' doors again because Hardway's outlook has improved. Plus, he added, it's what the Day 1 employee would've wanted.

"Our thoughts were 100 percent with him and we couldn't be here slinging drinks thinking about whether he was going to be alive an hour from then," Fowler said.

"We also know, of all the people, he'd have been the most — he's a warrior, he's a strong guy — he'd probably be the most disappointed to hear that we did close.

"We feel better because we know he's in good hands."

The man charged with shooting Hardway was arraigned at Champaign County Courthouse earlier on Monday.

Fidele G. Tshimanga, 24, was charged with one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of aggravated battery with a firearm. He faces 31 years to natural life in prison on the attempted murder charge, a Class X felony with a heightened penalty range.

Assistant State's Attorney Troy Lozar said Hardway was on a cigarette break outside Pour Bros. around 3:18 p.m. Thursday when Tshimanga allegedly produced a black handgun and shot Hardway in the back.

Hardway, 45, was then transported to a regional hospital for emergency services. A Sunday post on the Pour Bros. Facebook page said Hardway's health was slowly improving and his family and friends are "cautiously optimistic."

At least one witness saw Tshimanga shoot Hardway and the incident also appears to have been caught on video, Lozar said. Tshimanga was later identified by police and taken into custody. In an interview with officers, he allegedly admitted to shooting Hardway and disposing of the gun.

Police later located the firearm in the area and it matched a firearm recently reported stolen, Lozar said. Tshimanaga did not allegedly have a valid firearm owners' identification card.

The state requested that Tshimanga be held in jail ahead of his trial. A hearing on that issue is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

Fowler said he left the bar shortly before the shooting took place Thursday. Hardway was the only staff member present and there were already about six to seven customers inside.

The tavern was expecting to host about 150 people later that night for a trivia event, the owner said.

Fowler noted that Hardway has worked at the Champaign Pour Bros. since it opened in 2018 and spent more hours in the building than any other employee.

He described Hardway as a jack-of-all-trades, someone who served drinks, ordered products and made schedules, but also took care of others, made them feel welcome.

Reopening on a weekday with slower traffic will help the bar ease back into business, Fowler said, as he expected he and other staff will receive a lot of questions into the weekend.

But the top priority at the bar is currently less about work than determining what they can do for Hardway and his family.

"People hear improvement, that doesn't mean the situation is good," Fowler said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with him because you know it's going to be a long road to a hopeful recovery."