Desi Mulingbayan

Desi Mulingbayan

Click here for Village Inn Pizzeria’s Your Story from earlier in the pandemic.

“People don’t understand. As a business owner, your hands are tied. Either you follow the rules, and you alienate customers, or you don’t follow the rules and you get fined by the village board, get your business hours reduced, or even worse yet, have your liquor license removed. So, I wasn’t going to go down that road.”

“We’ve always followed whatever guidelines the village of Skokie put forth. They have their own health department. So, if they add additional mandates to the state or county ones, we do it, especially being business owners.”

“My wife, Diana, had been working with Randy since she was 16. About 10 years ago, she became a partner at Village Inn Pizza. And around that time, I had lost my job downtown. And while looking for work, she invited me to join her in working on the restaurant. And it’s been her and I for the past couple of years and obviously it has been very challenging with COVID, but we’re making it work.”

“At the start of the pandemic, we closed indoor dining, but we were allowed to open the patio. This was tough, since the sports bar business tends to pick up around March when March Madness happens. All of that was canceled, so it was costly. Then, we had to enforce the face covering policy, which was difficult since it has been such a fluid situation. One day is different than the next day, which adds another policy. We felt the frustration from our customers.”

“I had to answer questions from these customers such as, ‘What’s the point of wearing the mask outside or only using it while walking to our table on a patio?’ And on the flip side of that we had customers that appreciated that we did.”

“For 2020 our numbers were absolutely down. We lost a lot of bar business to other places. Our bar wasn’t able to open and people want to drink. So they went to places that were open in neighboring towns. They discovered they have an experience that we don’t have. So, it was tough for me to get them back, if I ever get them back because they found a new home. You want to work with village officials to get through this, but we’re not dealing with a level playing field here in Skokie.”

“Customers pointed out that the neighboring villages had indoor dining open or that they were not checking face coverings and pressed us to do the same, which was valid. It was a frustrating situation. I’m all for following the rules. But obviously, people were so divided on it. So, in sticking to the COVID guidelines, we’ve chased away business as a town. That was one of the challenges when reopening.”

“But we must do what’s best for our business to stay in business. We’ve been around for 30 years; we want you to be here, too, for the next 30 years. We’re doing everything we can, but it still cost us.”

“Carry-out orders really carried us because we did not have any indoor business besides the patio during the summer. Our carry-out numbers have been great. That shows us that a lot of people were staying home and ordering in, doing what they had to do to stay safe.”

“I’m trying to rebuild our bar business, but it’s been difficult to compete with neighboring towns that have fewer mandates, and there is more competition popping up in the area. I would like to figure out a way to make this work without having to raise prices even more.”

“But our margins are getting slimmer and slimmer every day. Food costs are going up, the supply chain issues are causing havoc, labor costs are going up. We’ll need more help once patio season comes around. Hopefully we can find some, but you never know.”

“So, numbers are down, and it’s up to my wife and I to figure out how we’re going to move forward. I don’t want to raise my prices to the point where it’s ridiculous for customers to order pizza. But at the same time, we need to support our family also. There’s only so much we can do as two people, but we’ll figure it out.”

“We’ve been around for three decades, not because we’re awesome, but because our community is awesome. They know a good thing when they see it. They’ve supported us during this challenging time, whether it be ordering carry out, delivery, dining in or dine out on the patio. Our staff is amazing with our customers, and our customers take care of our crew because they know they’re working hard.”

“Our community has been great. They are the heartbeat of our village. They keep us going.”

Desi Mulingbayan
Co-owner, Village Inn Pizza
Skokie, Illinois

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