CALUMET CITY — Like a lot of restaurant owners, Dorian Menchaca has had a rough seven months since the pandemic set in.
Menchaca has had to lay off half his staff at Don Pedro’s Mexican Bar and Grill on Torrence Avenue. And a lucrative side business as a caterer “got completely wiped out,” he said.
“We were catering multiple times a week with Fortune 500 companies downtown,” Menchaca said. “No longer are companies putting 100 and 200 employees together.”
Gone too is the demand for his second-floor banquet area, which used to be booked solid every weekend.
But during the initial shutdown, Menchaca found time to do some long-planned renovations. He signed up for delivery with Door Dash and Uber Eats, and even set up a makeshift drive-thru.
Those innovations, plus the support of a loyal customer base for a restaurant that turns 30 in February, have kept Don Pedro going.
Then came last week’s bad news: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, citing worsening COVID-19 numbers, ordered a ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants in Region 10, covering suburban Cook County.
“This next shutdown is like a punch to the gut,” Menchaca said.
Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush understands that. So she directed city workers to go out and record short videos at local establishments impacted by the ban to blast out on the city’s social media.
“I know it’s tough for our small businesses,” Markiewicz Qualkinbush said. “We’re doing everything we can to support them while following the (state) guidelines.”
The hope is that suburban Cook County’s COVID-19 stats will improve enough after two weeks of mitigation measures to allow indoor service again at bars and restaurants.
Hence the second element in Calumet City’s social media blitz: publicizing “14 Ways in 14 Days” to support restaurants and bars. They include ordering pickup, delivery or drive-thru; buying merchandise and gift cards; bundling up and eating outside where it’s available and before winter sets in; and finally, “Always think local — shop Calumet City.”
“We want this to be for (just) 14 days,” Markiewicz Qualkinbush said. “We don’t want it to continue.”
Neither does Menchaca, who appreciates having local government in his corner during these tough times.
“I think right now, small business and the city have to work together,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”