“When COVID first started, I was devastated because we just got into our Michigan Avenue store. The rent was like $14,000 a month. So it was a disaster. I just saw my whole life just going down the drain.”
“We fell behind on bills, especially with the Michigan Avenue store. We were worn out because a lot of things caused delays with the Navy Pier store. We kept being denied the PPP loan and we didn’t hear anything for a long time. We didn’t have any time. We had to pay our bills.”
“We invested everything in opening our Navy Pier store and we couldn’t qualify for any types of loans or grants. So we had to be resilient. And we had to come up with ways to pivot.”
“So my business partner, Ken, and I got together along with my daughter, Janelle, and joined a lot of Zoom meetings. We had to reinvent ourselves and we started self-educating to see what we could do.”
“We also saw during the pandemic that drive-throughs were really, really crowded. People were ordering tons of fast food and we learned that fast casual was hot.”
“So being a licensed real estate agent, I stumbled across the old bank, which had five drive throughs. And I’m like, ‘Wow, five drive-throughs.’ We need to do something different, you know. And so we decided to come buy this bank. And we apply for one of these grants with the city of Chicago, and now are bringing a franchise called Fatburger, which is based on the West Coast, to the Chatham area. And we’re very proud about that.”
“We believe the mask mandate was necessary. But it was very political. Certain customers did not want to wear the mask where it was mandated. It put a lot of our staff members at risk, having to confront people.”
“We offered curbside service, and a donation box for people who forgot masks. We really tried to really work around the policies and put people first, because we understand the frustration.”
“We’re about serving and serving with significance. We’re about creating enjoyment and happiness. We never, ever want to send anybody away angry, because people who are angry are just frustrated.”
“So, compliance with the mandates has been challenging and costly, for sure. We’re just very blessed to still be here today and to have survived the storm. We are very resilient.”
“But one thing about this pandemic, it pretty much was a reset button. We got a timeout. We had nothing else to do, so we started learning. We reinvented ourselves.”
“The Michigan Avenue store is still very much depressed because of COVID. There used to be at least 300 to 400 people walking past our store every hour. And the goal was to at least get 10% of those 400 people to come in and make an impulse purchase. For now there’s no foot traffic, no tourists.”
“Between the looting and loss of tourism in downtown, in 2020, we were down 75% in sales. Two years later, we’re down 55% in sales. But because the landlord is working with us on Michigan Avenue, we’re pressing forward.”
“And we’re very fortunate that we’re still standing. And we’re very proud because we really love our customers. And we’re here to serve.
“We opened our Navy Pier location during the pandemic after over a decade of trying to secure that location. It was a gift from God. Opening Navy Pier really gave me hope. And, January 2022, we were able to take over the Kilwins location in Geneva, Illinois.”
“Unfortunately, we were just a victim of someone doing a random shooting, and there were 26 bullets shot into the Hyde Park store. So as a result of that, I didn’t feel comfortable bringing myself, my daughter, or my staff back.”
“We had to take a timeout, because we never really dealt with the emotional effects of the looting in 2020. Prior to that we had a store in Old Town where we had been robbed a couple of times. We just kept going, and we never dealt with that. Mental health is important, and it was very important to me and my team members and my staff that we just took time to really take care of ourselves and closed the store temporarily.”
“All of our costs have also been skyrocketing. Our products, parts for machines, wages have all increased. From uniforms, to gloves, to masks, everything involved it costs so much more money. And unfortunately, some of the cost is getting passed down to the consumer, which is terrible.”
“Even so, I’m very optimistic. We’ve decided that we’re not leaving Hyde Park. We can’t wait to come back with a brand new store and really give that neighborhood what they deserve. We can’t let this crime stop us.”
“We have just got to keep going, keep pushing. We have to overcome this. And I know we will.”
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