With Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker modifying and extending the Illinois shelter-in place mandate through May 30, restaurant owners in Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside will continue to rely solely on takeout and delivery orders to support their businesses through the end of May.
“Before COVID-19 less than 1 percent of our business came from carry out and delivery orders,” said Martin Lynch, the owner of Irish Times in Brookfield. “Now 100 percent of our business relies on to-go orders. It’s crazy.”
Adapting to this new reality has not come without costs for the beloved Irish pub, at 8869 Burlington Ave. In addition to reducing their staff of 40 to just seven, the restaurant has made major adjustments to their overall operations.
They quickly learned that their phone system was not up to the task of meeting the demands for a 100-percent carryout business and their website was not capable of offering online ordering.
“Our phones and website are our absolute lifelines now,” said Lynch. “We are in the process of upgrading both our phone system and rebuilding our website. It’s an investment, but we need the technology if we are going to make it to next week or next month.”
Fluctuating food and supply costs are also a concerning factor for Lynch and his team at Irish Times. High demand and supply chain disruptions are making it difficult to budget each week and impact profit margins.
Irish Times serves up fresh half-pound burgers, but Lynch said the cost of ground beef jumped from $2.61 per pound to $4.34 per pound overnight.
“We’d never pass those increased costs along to our customers, but if someone orders a burger at that cost through DoorDash our profit is gone,” said Lynch. “They take 30 percent.”
To keep things fresh the pub will offer family meals and mother’s day special in the coming weeks. You can follow Irish Times on Facebook to stay up to date on menu specials.
“We opened in 1991 and we’ve been around for 29 years,” said Lynch. “We have every intention of being here for another 29 years. We will not let this beat us.”
The Chew Chew holds a similar place in the hearts of Riversiders, a local staple that has been serving the village for 25 years.
Owner and executive chef Scott Zimmer’s number one goal throughout the COVID-19 shutdown has been to keep his staff employed. No one working at The Chew Chew or his neighboring restaurant, Sawmilly, wanted to go on unemployment. Zimmer is doing the best he can to make that a reality for the restaurants’ 30 employees.
“Basically, everyone is still here, and this experience has made us a tighter group,” said Zimmer. “In a strange way it has been kind of fun.”
The Chew Chew, 33 E. Burlington St., received a loan through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) that helps pay employee salaries. Additionally, Zimmer credits his ability to retain staff to The Chew Chew’s longevity in the Riverside community.
“My heart goes out to owners of young businesses,” said Zimmer. “We are well beyond that point and that puts us in a slightly different position when it comes to surviving this type of crisis. Our overhead expenses are much lower than relatively young restaurants.”
Zimmer is also focused on the importance of maintaining his unique brand through the COVID-19 pandemic. Zimmer wanted to keep operations as close to normal as possible. In that spirit The Chew Chew continues to offer their full menu, without limitation or gimmicks, despite dining room closures.
“We have no idea how long this will go on,” Zimmer said. “The longer it goes the bigger the challenge will be.”
Keeping things consistent is Zimmer’s way of maintaining and building trust within the Riverside community. Though Zimmer is not sure what to anticipate next he and his staff have a positive outlook. Patrons have been generous when it comes to tipping and ordering leaving Zimmer overwhelmed with gratitude.
“Let us do what we do best. Let us be a restaurant,” said Zimmer. “We want to create great food and get it out the door safely. That means you will see people wearing masks and gloves, but serving guests keeps us going.”
Mary Vasquez, owner of Mary’s Morning Mix-Up, at 9110 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield, strives to make every guest visiting her cheery restaurant feel like family.
The 5-year-old restaurant has been doing a robust carryout business since the stay-at-home order went in place. Customers are clamoring for Vasquez’s house-made baked goods and their turkey and ham dinners remain popular, but a pivot to Bohemian fare has been especially successful for Mary’s Morning Mix-Up.
“I have been selling bakery like never before, but the response to our Bohemian meals has been unbelievable.” said Vasquez. “I called up all my Polish girlfriends and got their recipe secrets.”
Vasquez admits she stumbled into a niche cuisine, but her roast pork, sauerkraut and bread dumpling entrée sold out in 25 minutes. That success cemented the fact Bohemian fare will be on the menu every Thursday at Mary’s Morning Mix-Up. Vasquez updates the menu daily on her the restaurant’s Facebook page.
To bolster her breakfast house, Vasquez attempted to apply for a PPP loan three times, but system glitches prevented the application from going through. She was heartbroken to realize help in the form of payroll protection would not be able to ease the struggles facing her work family. To help bridge the gap, Vasquez took out a second mortgage on her home.
“I am willing to lose my house before I lose this restaurant,” said Vasquez. “I have 13 employees and I feel responsible for them.”
Vasquez’s outlook remains optimistic and she is grateful for her customers’ ongoing support during these challenging times. She and her staff thrive on the positive feedback they have been receiving on social media and in the community.