LAKEVIEW — Patrick Berger knew giving up food in favor of a 40-day beer-only diet would be difficult, but he didn’t expect this.
Berger, co-owner of Paddy Long’s and Kaiser Tiger, gained publicity in February when he announced he was skipping food in favor of a four-beer-a-day Lenten fast, inspired by 17th century monks.
Since then, he’s lost 33 pounds, 6 inches off his waistline and had to temporarily close his two bars.
Despite wanting to quit the fast as the stress of the health and economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic began to mount, Berger stuck with the sudsy diet to the bitter end. He’ll break the fast on Thursday at Paddy Long’s, 1028 W. Diversey Parkway in Lakeview.
When Gov. JB Pritzker ordered bars and restaurants closed to dine-in patrons on March 15, Berger and his business partner decided to close the businesses and lay off 57 employees. The move allowed those workers to apply for unemployment benefits, but Berger said they’re having a difficult time applying with the state.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the two establishments will reopen for delivery and takeout, allowing a small number of staff to pick up shifts each day.
“We’re going to do all the deliveries ourselves. It’s all going to go to the staff,” he said.
He hopes any attention he receives for completing the fast will lead to a rush in business or contributions to a virtual tip jars established for the staff.
“Another reason we are reopening is we’re offering a free meal every day for all of our employees, you know, so I can at least feed them during this because I can’t do anything else,” he said.
Berger had little doubt he’d complete the fast a few weeks ago, but as the world around him devolved into chaos, his first instinct was to overindulge or stress eat some chips and salsa. But, ultimately, the thought of quitting just brought on more anxiety.
“I almost threw in the towel last week because I was just overwhelmed with stress,” he said. But “the thought of not finishing it when I knew I could was just, it made me depressed and I’m already depressed enough right now.”
He credited his wife for encouraging him to complete the 40 days, but their plans for a trip to Belgium with their three sons — 17, 14 and 10 — were canceled and they’re all at home adjusting to life in isolation.
“I’ve never felt closer to my wife,” he said. And their kids have been “pretty magnificent through this whole thing.” He’s even bonding with his youngest while avoiding temptation.
“The 10-year-old’s really into cooking, so I’ve been teaching him how to cook for himself,” he said. “There’s certainly temptation there when you’re cooking a nice-looking meal, but I got over the whole temptation thing early on.”
His primary care doctor finally learned of the fast a few weeks ago, and although she still doesn’t approve of drinking four to five beers a day, she told him he’s not in any immediate danger of dying.
However, she was able to convince him to slowly introduce solid foods back into his diet. Berger previously told Block Club he planned to eat solid food immediately.
“Like on Day One will I eat something solid? F— yeah, for sure,” he said on Feb. 29.
Now, he’ll have some garlic soup.
“It’s an old Czech hangover cure, and I certainly could use a hangover cure,” he said. “It’s a very simple garlic base soup with potatoes in it that are super soft and you sprinkle a little cheese and some croutons in there.”
In addition to the weight loss, Berger said he’s stopped snoring, has lower cholesterol and is reaching further and further into his closet to retrieve shirts he’d set aside years ago as too snug. However, he hasn’t become a beer-only fast evangelist.
“I’m not promoting this as a healthy diet or a healthy way to lose weight. It is simply a mental challenge. If you choose to take it on, the consequences are on you. I’m taking zero responsibility,” he said with a laugh.
Now, Berger is focused on the challenge of saving his businesses. He’s “100 percent” confident Kaiser Tiger and Paddy Long’s will fully reopen after the coronavirus pandemic subsides, but he’s had a few sleepless nights wondering when that will happen.
“I mean, they’re not gonna open us before the schools,” he said. “And it’s not gonna be a rush of people coming back because people are freaked out.”
Berger criticized Pritzker’s measure to defer a host of taxes for small businesses as a “political sham.” Only businesses that paid less than $75,000 in taxes qualify.
“In Chicago, if you’re doing that small of numbers, you’re probably not open,” he said. “Insurance is not covering a dime of this. The government’s not covering a dime of this, we’re completely on our own. … [My business partner] and I will be pouring in our own money to ensure this happens so that we survive this.”
Hopefully the lenten fast has proven, at least to himself, what he can accomplish.
“It’s a triumph amongst many defeats here, you know. It’s something positive that I’ve accomplished, when so much of my life has disappeared,” he said.
Both Paddy Long’s and Kaiser Tiger will be open for carryout and delivery 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday until they are able to re-open full time.
Customers can visit the websites to order. Both have established GoFundMe campaigns to tip staff who are unable to work at the moment.
Here is the Kaiser Tiger fundraiser
Here is the Paddy Long’s Fundraiser