Gyros Planet and Taqueria can stay open after outpour of community support

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Julia Esparza/Daily Senior Staffer

Gyros Planet, 1903 Church St. After owners Erika Castro and Pablo Sanchez made the tough decision to close, an outpour of support from the community.

Julia Richardson, Assistant City Editor

Just last week, Gyros Planet and Taqueria owners Erika Castro and Pablo Sanchez were cleaning out their restaurant and breaking down their equipment. 

But after an outpour of support from the Evanston community, they now have enough money to pay six months of rent and get their store back up and running— and they say their future looks brighter.

“I don’t have words to describe how this is a miracle,” Castro said. “I just want to say thank you to everybody that just stepped up and helped us keep the restaurant.”

Gyros Planet opened in March 2019, but Castro and Sanchez struggled to keep their business afloat with a loss of foot traffic from Evanston Township High School students and staff due to COVID-19.  Although Gyros Planet set up a GoFundMe in November, the pandemic winter set in, and business had grown even slimmer. Castro and Sanchez couldn’t pay their rent. Eventually, they made the decision to close. 

When Dear Evanston founder Nina Kavin launched a GoFundMe last Wednesday to fundraise $30,000, enough to cover six months of rent, the fundraiser met its goal in 24 hours. But the following day, Kavin learned the landlord had already given the lease to a new tenant. 

Castro and Sanchez started exploring potential locations for a new space to open their restaurant. However, Friday afternoon, the landlord called Castro and Sanchez back to say he had witnessed a wave of support from residents, so he decided to break the new lease. Gyros Planet could stay in place, and the GoFundMe stayed open until Sunday, eventually raising over $60,000. 

Kavin said the GoFundMe’s comments are filled with messages of support, both from people who know Castro and Sanchez and from people who have never met them. 

“Covid has been really tragic for our community, and for every community,” Kavin said. “But it’s also shown resilience, and strength, and coming together, and supporting each other. We need so much more of that.” 

For the past nine months, as food insecurity rates have increased dramatically, Castro and Sanchez have donated about 25,000 meals. 

Castro said helping others despite their own struggles was always a priority for her and Sanchez.

“It was not just the work that Pablo and I did — it was the work of so many people,” Castro said. “So many people got involved to help us to make sure that other people would have food on their tables.”

Initially, the free lunches were funded through Castro and Sanchez’ own savings, but from April to December, Gyros Planet was supported by the Evanston Community Foundation’s  rapid response fund.

ECF Vice President for Community Investment Rebecca Cacayuran said she’s grateful for Castro and Sanchez’s dedication to putting the community first.

“It really has been a partnership,” Cacayuran said. “I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Erica and Pablo, and we’re neighbors. Evanston, we’re only 75,000 people, and there is a real feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’”

Femke Munting, president of student-run nonprofit LEND NU, an organization that provides loans and counseling to local businesses, echoed Cacayurin’s sentiments. 

Although LEND hasn’t worked with Gyros Planet formally, Munting has met Castro and Sanchez a few times, and she said their support for residents is “incredible.” 

“They’re hard-working, smart, caring people who make really great food,” Munting said. “And that shows in a lot of the things that they do.” 

Castro said she is unsure of an exact date, but Gyros Planet will reopen within the next few weeks.

She also encourages residents to continue supporting businesses like they did Gyros Planet.

“People are still dying and people are still losing their jobs and people are still losing their business,” Castro said. “If we just come together as a community …  we can save other businesses, and we can save the community.”

Maia Spoto contributed reporting.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @juliaa_grace

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