By Lauren Wong
ELMHURST – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter everyday life, many local restaurants have been left to scavenge whatever profits they can in order to keep the doors open.
One initiative to help restaurants stay open is the Take Out 25 program, which was instituted in Elmhurst with great success.
After hearing of the success the program had in Oak Park, Frank DeCarlo, a general contractor and home inspector, reached out to Paula Pezza, owner and manager of a realty business, to implement it in Elmhurst.
To participate in the program, individuals simply request to join the TakeOut 25-Elmhurst group, which started Dec 2 on Facebook. Participants pledge to spend $25 a week at any local restaurant in Elmhurst.
The Facebook group is its own little community, with people sharing new places and dishes to try and opening eyes to places right around the corner that may have been overlooked for years. Just weeks in, the program has been a success. There are 2,000 people on the page, a number DeCarlo and Pezza would like to increase to 5,000.
“I’m a contractor. If the guy next door to me, who’s got a perfectly fine kitchen, decides that he doesn’t like his kitchen, he can call me up and I can go over there and tear his kitchen up in the middle of this pandemic and shutdown,” DeCarlo said. “I’m considered essential, and it’s always bothered me that small businessmen and women who have their life savings invested into something are being blocked out. From my perspective, it’s just how badly I feel for the small businesspeople across the country that have to go through this.”
For Pezza, the idea hit home as she watched her son use most of his life savings to open a restaurant/bar in the Chicago suburbs.
“It was November of 2019, and low and behold COVID hit and the bar never really even had the chance to take off and he lost everything,” Pezza said.
Pezza and DeCarlo plan to keep the initiative going throughout the pandemic and even after it in an effort to help restaurants recover.
The group’s efforts have led to a spike in revenue for surrounding businesses.
It’s also allowed individuals to expand their palates and stray from traditional dinners.
“I’ve lived in Elmhurst for 30 years and there’s restaurants I never knew existed,” DeCarlo said. “Tonight, we’re ordering from Ni Hao. I live three blocks from the place. I never knew what was there.”
Numerous restaurants have reaped benefits from the program, but one restaurant’s success stands out.
“The Pasta Express is like the Cinderella story of this whole thing,” DeCarlo said. “There was a waiting line outside the place. It’s like this little rinky-dink restaurant in a gas station that is just killing it. They even ran out of macaroni and cheese the other day.”
By getting involved “you’re not only getting these great food ideas, and you can be like a foodie and take pictures of your food, but you’re also helping your community and the businesses in your community at the same time. It’s a win-win either way,” Pezza said.
“The program just brings the community closer as a whole,” DeCarlo added.
“It shows during time of hardship that people are willing to step up and help the community out. It gives a better sense of community,” DeCarlo said. “It’s given them a chance to have a voice in this, because for the large part, we don’t. We’re sitting at home watching TV, and this gives people a chance to say, ‘Hey, I’m a part of this, I want the restaurants in Elmhurst to succeed, and here is my way of contributing.’ ”
Grateful for the support, some restaurants have given DeCarlo and Pezza $25 gift cards to give to members of the Facebook page. The City Centre organization is donating a large sum of gift cards, which can be used at restaurants throughout the center. Additionally, DeCarlo and Pezza donate $25 weekly to a participant of the group, who gets to select the restaurant where they would like to use the gift card.
DeCarlo and Pezza also are giving restaurants the chance to submit brief videos that will be posted in the Facebook group to personalize the owners and spread awareness about hidden gems. The videos let participants see how the restaurants are being affected by the pandemic.
“It’s a restaurant, but there’s people behind it whose lives have been impacted. When you can personalize it a little bit, it pulls on people’s heartstrings,” DeCarlo said. “We’re businesspeople in this town. We just want to see the town come out the other end of this thing as close to whole as we can possibly help it to be.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle