Some Downtown Evanston restaurants see revenue increase as NU underclassmen return to campus


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Shawn Kohli and Anthony Scala, former Volkswagen employees, purchased the City Volkswagen of Evanston last July.

Julia Richardson, Assistant City Editor

As Northwestern pulls underclassmen back to campus for Winter Quarter, some Downtown Evanston businesses are noticing an increase in revenue.

Since NU students left campus last spring and the local economy buckled due to COVID-19, many Downtown Evanston stores and restaurants have closed, including student-favorites such as Unicorn Cafe, Panera and Andy’s. Others are struggling to remain open.

But Mahmoud Sabla, co-owner of Habibi In Mediterranean Grill, said the students’ return gives him hope.

“(On Friday) we had a big rush…and it reminded us (of) before the pandemic,” Sabla said.
“We weren’t prepared for it because we had cut people-hours. We had made enough food just to get through the day. But that day…we ran out of rice, we ran out of a lot of things, and that made us happy.”

Sabla said because Habibi In opened in December 2019, when the pandemic hit he couldn’t file for many loans necessary to keep business afloat. As a result, staying open during the months without students on campus proved even more difficult.

If it were not for his landlord giving him breaks on monthly rent, he would have needed to close the restaurant, Sabla said.

“We are in the need for help, because this restaurant, it’s different than any other restaurant,” Sabla said. “Our reviews, it’s five-star all the way, and people like our food. We just want them back, and we want them to get more.”

General manager of 10Q Chicken, Andrew Oh, said the past several months have been difficult, but he has already seen a significant increase in his revenue in the short time students have been back on campus.

But while he is pleased with the boom in business, Oh added that he has some concerns about COVID-19 case numbers rising.

“Kids are kids, and having a lot of kids together long term, my bigger worry is…what is this going to do in terms of COVID?” Oh said. “We moved into Phase 4 earlier than we should have, and we’re paying the price for it now … we were seeing numbers rebounding and we’re still feeling the effects of people going out during Christmas and New Years (and) traveling abroad during Thanksgiving.”

Oh added that rising COVID-19 numbers could trigger more city-wide lockdowns, which would worsen business.

Businesses like Cupitol Coffee & Eatery are continuing to adhere to precautions such as only allowing take-out orders and requiring customers to social-distance from each other. Cupitol assistant manager Bladimir Lagunas said he wants to make customers feel as safe as possible, including Northwestern students.

“We also like to keep connected with Northwestern … to always keep ourselves out there for the students, (and) to also know that there is a local place where they can come and study,” Lagunas said. “We just really hope to see everybody soon.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @juliaa_grace

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