LINCOLN SQUARE — With temperatures projected to hit record lows in the coming days, Jose Navea and his wife Andrea Andrade, the owners of Sweet Pepper restaurant, have come up with a special off-menu item aimed at the commuters who catch the No. 81 Lawrence bus outside their storefront.
Treat yourself to some free heat (and no, not the spicy kind).
Navea said he often spots elderly people or parents with small children clustered around the No. 81 CTA signpost that’s steps from his front door, and he and Andrade started to worry about the potential effects of the deep freeze on folks waiting in the cold.
A lightbulb clicked in his head: “Hey, they should wait inside.”
He spread the word on a neighborhood Facebook page — “What we want to offer is a warm place while you wait for the bus” — and taped a note to Sweet Pepper’s front window: “Please feel free to step in the restaurant and wait inside, it is nice and warm in here.”
There are no strings attached or purchase required, said the couple, who opened Sweet Pepper, 2604 W. Lawrence Ave., in July. Just think of the restaurant like a super-sized heat lamp.
Having moved to Chicago from Venezuela three years ago, Navea and Andrade understand more than most how bracing the city’s winters can feel to the uninitiated.
“Furnaces … that’s something new for us,” said Navea, who, like Andrade, hails from the town of Merida, where temperatures seldom even dip near freezing.
Their first brush with Chiberia caught them off guard.
“Was it a shock? Yes. It still is,” said Andrade.
The brutal cold walloped them like a two-by-four.
“We couldn’t think,” she recalled.
As they huddled in a doorway for shelter, the only thought that popped into Andrade’s head was “We’re going to die,” she said with a laugh.
“We saw people walking by and wondered, ‘How are they doing that?'” said Navea.
It’s true, Chicagoans are a hardy lot. But even the puffiest parka is going to be tested this week, and minutes spent waiting for the bus can feel like forever. If you need a break from the arctic blast, Sweet Pepper’s got your back — and your frigid fingers and toes.