Open Tab: Local shops serve customers sweet treats during the pandemic
April 23, 2020
As uncertainty and anxiety loom during the coronavirus pandemic, Evanston Coldstone Creamery owner Johnathan Thomas said life’s little luxuries are more valuable than ever. Sweet treats bring people joy every day, but in times of crisis, he said he would even call dessert a “necessity.”
“We can be a reminder of normalcy right now,” Thomas said. “It’s the small things that remind people we get through this together.”
Like restaurants, bakeries and ice cream shops cannot offer dine-in service in Illinois. But that’s not stopping them from serving customers. In Evanston, local sweets shops are working hard to get their offerings to residents and adapt to changing circumstances.
While restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus were issued quickly, Thomas said Cold Stone already offered items on meal delivery services like Grubhub, which made the transition easier. Cold Stone also implemented curbside pickup and has an influx in cake orders for at-home celebrations. Thomas said he’s lucky that his business is very busy.
Not all eateries are in this position, however. FRÍO Gelato relies on in-person exchanges at its flagship location on Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Owner Sebastián Koziura said when Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued the shelter in place order, he weighed his options and felt it was a “no brainer” to temporarily close. He said sales were already down due to frigid temperatures and less foot traffic.
After about a month, Koziura received messages from customers expressing how much they missed the store’s gelato. He reopened the shop in early April and saw strong sales from customers.
FRÍO Gelato is now open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, operating on a reduced schedule. It allows a limited number of people in the store at a time and has customers stay six feet apart. It also added curbside pickup and recently began delivering through Grubhub.
“People in Evanston are very supportive of local business, and you really see that during times like these,” Koziura said. “It’s just who we are as a community.”
Beyond frozen treats, Bennison’s Bakery is ensuring that customers get their cake, macaron and cookie fix. Owner Jory Downer said not much has changed for the bakery, which is still at full staff and fulfilling daily orders. While customers can come into the storefront, Downer said Grubhub, delivery through the bakery and curbside pickup are “extremely” active. He is not used to seeing the bakery almost empty.
“It was strange to walk in the store on Easter Saturday, when it would typically be full of people, and only see about six,” Downer said. “Instead, there was a huge crowd out on the sidewalk. It used to be the other way around.”
Eateries are also supporting those who work in the food industry during the pandemic. Soon after the coronavirus outbreak, Andy’s Frozen Custard closed, leaving staff unemployed. Thomas reached out to former Andy’s employees and offered them positions at Cold Stone so they would still have steady employment during the national emergency.
“It just made sense to me,” Thomas said. “I was in a position to help them as much as they could help me at the store.”
Dave Schaps, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co., said although his business has been severely impacted by the coronavirus, he is focused on helping other Evanston establishments get through the pandemic. Coffee Lab & Roasters usually buys pastries from Great Harvest, but Schaps said he’s currently providing his products to the shop for free to help it survive.
“Evanston is the best community in Chicagoland,” Schaps said. “I want to see all businesses pull through this.”
Schaps said his sales are about one-third of what they usually are. Customers still call in orders and get items delivered, but most of that money goes towards paying rent and employees. However, despite the darkness the coronavirus has cast upon the community, Schaps said Evanston will come out of the pandemic “stronger.”
“The coronavirus is not leaving anyone untouched,” Schaps said. “We’ve just got to all come together and help as many people as we can.”
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