by Jay Kitterman, consultant, Culinary Institute, Lincoln Land Community College
My message today is,” SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANTS!”
This past week I spoke with some local chefs and how they are responding to the virus. They are all introducing a new model of business, and as Justin Cooper said, “The key is being able to adapt.”
Sam Toia, Illinois Restaurant Association president, believes “The city of Chicago could permanently lose up to 1,500 independent restaurants. Restaurants that have stayed open have seen an 80 percent revenue loss. About half of Chicago’s 7,500 restaurants have closed and the other half is struggling in attempting to pay their staff to cook and deliver food to customers.” The National Restaurant Association estimates 15-20 percent of all restaurants nationwide will close for good as a result of the pandemic. Governor Pritzker acknowledged in a recent daily update that “Industries like restaurants and hospitality are harder to open than some others. It is much easier to have social distancing for example, in a warehouse, than in a restaurant where there might be booths close to each other.”
All of the chefs I spoke to indicated they are changing to a carryout model and not sure if it will sustain them through May let alone June or later. Some are using delivery services like Grubhub, but there is strong resentment against their high fees, in some cases 30 percent that the restaurant pays.
Michael Higgins, chef/owner of Maldaner’s, has been able to retain a number of loyal employees even if it has resulted in reduced hours for them. For Michael, “community” is the key important concept. Over the years he has been active in the community, has supported community organizations, and now thankful for their support. In short, “If you give to the community, the community will pay back.” He is uncertain how sustainable the current model will be for “Maldaner’s was not designed to be a takeout restaurant.” Numerous banquets representing thousands of dollars of sales all the way through October have cancelled. Michael specifically mentioned the support of Springfield food distributor MJ Kellner. Reduced business translates to smaller food orders which normally results in additional fees and Kellner’s has been an “understanding” partner.
Maldaner’s is located at 222 S. Sixth Street and you can order by calling 217-522-4313. Special takeout menu is at www.maldaners.com plus more information on their Facebook page. Curbside service is available Tuesday thru Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Augie Mrozowski along with his wife Sharon are owners of Augie’s Front Burner. Initially they tried curbside but for now have decided to close. They continue to feed their staff of 12 to 14 employees three times a week. For over 50 years, Augie’s life has been working the “cook line” at a restaurant and feeding people. For the first time in his life there is now “uncertainty.” He predicts the economy will not be strong when they do reopen and at least initially customers will have limited funds. Augie and Sharon have been busy thoroughly cleaning the restaurant preparing to reopen. Similar to other restaurants, they had numerous future parties cancel but they still remain positive.
Justin Cooper and his wife Kendra are owners of StrEATtside food truck and operate Cooper’s AlleySide restaurant at King Pin Lanes. The truck is parked for now, and they have adopted a new model of limited curbside takeout and bake your own. Justin started his culinary career at Lincoln Land Community College’s culinary program and during this challenging time refers to the book “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. It was required reading for one of his classes at LLCC and at the time he admits had little relevance. A key point of the book is the importance of being able to adapt to change. They are thankful to local companies and hospitals that have kept them busy with orders for their essential employees. They have been able to retain most of their employees and as of last week were recruiting for two new people. Carol and I tried the chicken lasagna on their Take & Bake weekend menu, and it was delicious. We also ordered a pizza to freeze for a later time.
Cooper’s AlleySide is located at 3115 Sangamon Avenue. Order by calling 217-415-3852. Daily and Saturday Take & Bake menus which change weekly are available at Cooper’s AlleySide Facebook page. Look for the “toasttab” on the page to pay and order. Some of the Take & Bake items have enough food for the whole family.
I remember well (not that long ago) when Chef Keith Loukinens was tirelessly remodeling Loukinens’ restaurant. The new restaurant opened to great fame and provided Springfield a wonderful new chef owned and operated restaurant. After developing a loyal following, they are now forced to close and develop a new business model. I spoke with Laurie Loukinens last week. She was obviously challenged but staying positive with starting a curbside service, filling out forms for an SBA loan, plus the new important role of teacher for their son. Laurie said they were very thankful for their loyal customers and corporate business they were now receiving. Chef Keith is challenged with creating a new menu, managing the kitchen and now shopping at local stores because of reduced business.
If you follow Incredibly Delicious on Facebook then you are familiar and tempted by owner Patrick Groth’s videos. “Jay, this is our 25th anniversary year and not the way we had planned to celebrate,” is what Patrick relayed to me last week. One goal has been to “formulate a business that is safe for employees and customers.” His new menu includes customer favorite’s and everything is still made fresh to order. He is keeping up the gardens and outdoor seating is available to enjoy breakfast, lunch or coffee and pastry. He is thankful for all his local vendors and also specifically mentioned MJ Kellner.
Incredibly Delicious is located at 517 S. Fourth and you can order by installing the app ”cloosiv,” or calling 217-528-8548. View their menu on their app “cloosiv,” Facebook page or website incrediblydelicious.com. Open for curbside Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Saturdays 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
What can you do to support our local restaurants? Consider:
- Order takeout/curbside. You can normally find restaurant menus on their websites and Facebook pages. The chefs prefer you use their curbside model rather than the delivery services due to the high fees. Many of the restaurants will take your credit card number over the phone or via their online ordering page to reduce contact with restaurant staff.
- Tip! Restaurant workers rely on tips to make ends meet. Now more than ever, TIP. Many of the restaurants are having their tips “pooled” or shared amongst their employees. Restaurants also suggest that you tip in cash rather than adding on your credit card.
- Like, share, post, write positive reviews. Use multiple platforms:Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Positive reviews on Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. show your support and will bring a smile during this difficult time, plus everyone likes a compliment!
- Buy gift cards and merchandise. A perfect gift item for an essential frontline person; you are helping the restaurant and at the same time providing someone a meal. Great for birthdays, an upcoming anniversary and of course Mother’s Day. Some restaurants have shirts, mugs (Incredibly Delicious has some great shirts.) This money you spend is deposited into the restaurant account and immediately available to pay employees and suppliers.
- Employee funds. Some of our restaurants have started “GoFundMe” pages or separate funds for their employees. Remember the majority of restaurant employees do not have sick leave or vacations, and now their hours are reduced or have been laid off.
- Have you visited “SpringfieldZoom?” The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Lincoln Land Community College under the leadership of Kevin Lust was one of the partner economic development organizations that worked with Mark Roberts and AlertsMadeEasy.com to develop www.SpringfieldZoom.com as Sangamon County’s one-stop information source for consumers to find local business’s information throughout this COVID-19 public health crisis.
Remember: Wash Your Hands, Shop Local, Stay Well, Support Our Restaurants and TIP BIG!