The main things I have written about lately are only related to Covid and politics. This has me on total overload as we find ourselves in month seven of the pandemic. For a good change of pace, I recently I had an opportunity to talk with Danny Raskin, owner of Manny’s Deli about the issues that have faced his iconic restaurant during this time and felt the need to share his story. Keep in mind, it’s not just his story, it’s that of restaurants everywhere that have experienced the impact of the pandemic.
Manny’s opened for business in 1942 and has sustained 78 years of serving some of Chicago’s favorite deli delights. Corned beef stacked high, homemade potato pancakes, delicious soups, lox, bagels, you name it. Although a recent tweet in July and the Jewish Holidays helped give Manny’s a well needed spike in business, there are too many other factors that Raskin is up against that can’t afford him a decent night’s sleep.
After the tweet in July which was featured on the news, people lined up in droves to support the Deli. He emphasizes his gratitude for that and how much it meant to him. Then the unthinkable happened: the looting and riots in Chicago began and hence, business came to a screeching halt. Manny’s is located in the South Loop and amidst the unrest was considered an unsafe place to go. Highways were closed; people were afraid.
Another huge factor in the drop in business are those that worked in the city and have now been relegated to working at home. Many of these people live in the suburbs. To counteract this, Raskin has set up suburban pick ups in many areas that would normally never have had the pleasure of dining on a Manny’s meal. People as far as Michiana, Michigan and Elburn, Illinois have volunteered their driveways as pick up spots as Danny and his staff work tirelessly to prepare the meals for delivery.
As he awaits a permit for outdoor seating in front of the restaurant, he has set up dining in the parking lot. Despite being equipped with heaters that will prolong the inevitable drop in temperatures, his outdoor dining capabilities days are numbered. And this factor alone is what Danny, as well as all the other restaurants in Chicago are dreading. Which is why supporting the Deli and your other favorite spots is so important in the other ways offered.
Remember, there are no Government bailouts for the industry despite their importance to the economy. His initial round of PPP was used to keep all of his employees working however, at 6 weeks he had to cut hours. Then fortunately with the bump due to the tweet, the Jewish Holidays and the suburban pick ups, he has been able to remain fully staffed. This doesn’t mean that the restaurant is making money though – it’s just keeping his head slightly above water. With winter looming, he is afraid of drowning. The costs of maintaining and running a restaurant are staggering; Rents, payroll and taxes don’t go away.
Curbside pick up has become a life saver for many spots but it isn’t enough. We started the pandemic when temperatures were only getting better and there was hope that we would have a vaccine by summer. Now as we face the possibility of having to live through 2021 in the current manner, panic has set in.
No one wants to see a restaurant that has been in business for almost 80 years close.
With a recent approval by the city, indoor dining capacity has been increased to 40% and Raskin would like to reassure his customers of the safety measures he has taken now and looking ahead to the colder weather.
Tables are spaced appropriately for social distancing. All tables, chairs and surfaces are cleaned and disinfected after every patron. Anyone walking in must be masked until seated. His employees are masked at all times and he is thrilled that not a single employee has tested positive in the seven months of the pandemic. They are all careful and follow all protocol measures.
Danny does recommend that if you are comfortable dining indoors, you do it with only the people that you are either living with or see everyday. Remember, he doesn’t want people contracting the virus in his restaurant. He wants you to go about it intelligently and with thought.
In addition to increasing his indoor dining capabilities, they are working on upgrading their technology for better online ordering for local pick and and delivery. This should be done by the end of the month; keep an eye out for these improvements!
So, if you are not comfortable dining indoors ask yourself this: Do you like Manny’s? Do you love their food? Do you love the fact they have been around for as long as they have and their quality of food remains as good as it was in 1942? Your answer to all these should be yes. And to help them survive, place your curbside orders. Your catering orders. Every occasion you have, Manny’s can help with your food. Order and do a suburban pickup. Volunteer your driveway for a pickup. Keep dining outdoors until it’s absolutely not possible. SPREAD THE WORD. And if you’re comfortable and willing to dine indoors give it a try. Support, support, support. Let’s keep this Chicago treasure around for many years to come.
And may we all get through this by eating a great corned beef sandwich whenever we can.