Coping with COVID: March 30

In spite of the ongoing pandemic, Homewood diners will have four new choices available in the coming months, including 1) the Saucy Crab at 17620 Halsted St., 2) EmpanadUs at 1941 Ridge Road, 3) Don Goyo at 17536 Dixie Highway and 4) Pita at 18155 Dixie Highway. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

It’s a difficult time for restaurants. COVID-19 and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mitigation regulations have slowed sales and increased overhead costs. Opening a new restaurant right now may be even harder than maintaining an existing one. 

Despite that, Homewood is expected to see four new eating establishments open in the next few months with others possibly following in 2021. There’s no secret to attracting those businesses, though, village officials said. 

“We just kept the conversations with owners going,” Village Director of Economic and Community Development Angela Mesaros said. 

EmpanadUs is an Argentinian restaurant that started in 2010 when the Schamber family started offering an empanada with every sale at a vintage clothing market. It’s in the final stages of renovation on a property at 1941 Ridge Road that will operate as both a restaurant and production facility.

Saucy Crab is a “rustic-themed cajun seafood boil” which will serve traditional southern food at 17620 Halsted St., formerly Roberto’s Men’s Clothing. It’s expected to open soon.

“I don’t really worry about the pandemic. I believe everything is going to be okay,” Saucy Crab president Jiyi Qui said. 

Pita Mediterranean Street Food will serve fast-casual cuisine at 18155 Dixie Highway. Owners purchased the property in June. Mesaros said Homewood targeted Mediterranean food for the space at residents’ request.

“Our goal is to have diverse eating options to bring people downtown,” Mesaros said.

EmpanadUs owner Eric Schamber said COVID-19 caused delays in opening EmpanadUs. Shipping delays slowed the delivery of equipment and materials and contractors need to space out to ensure social distancing.

There’s also the financial effects of the virus. Schamber said the two EmpanadUs locations in Riverside and La Grange saw about a 60 percent drop in sales.

“At this point we have some confidence we will be able to endure these challenging times and keep the team employed but there is still a lot of uncertainty with COVID and the coming cold winter months,” he said.

The plan is to open in Homewood early next year, Schamber said.

Mexican restaurant Don Goyo has had a restaurant at 17536 Dixie Highway in the works since last summer. Construction paused but recently began anew, and the village board approved a liquor license last month.

Each of the restaurants was incentivized to open in Homewood.

Pita was given a $25,000 rebate in the village’s places for eating tax and a $30,000 reimbursement for a new grease trap. EmpanadUs will get a $25,000 places for eating tax rebate, a reimbursement of $30,800 for grease trap installation and 18.5% or $30,000 of other renovation costs.

The village suspended collection of the places for eating tax for all businesses for three months in the spring and did so again for November and December 2020 and January 2021.

Qui said Saucy Crab customers requested a Homewood location and village government’s support helped convince them. The Saucy Crab has restaurants in Tinley Park, Evergreen Park and Grand Rapids, Michigan. It recently opened in Bourbonnais.

Schamber also cited Homewood government and Mayor Richard Hofeld in his reasoning for opening in the village.

Empanadus has had a booth in the village farmer’s markets for years and had been looking to open a location closer to Chicago. Hofeld often floated the idea of a Homewood location and called Schamber personally when the storefront on Ridge Road became available.

“I would give full credit to Mayor Rich Hofeld,” Schamber said. “We would most probably not have a permanent location in Homewood were it not for his foresight and perseverance.”

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