LAKEVIEW — With Chicago’s bars and restaurants limited to delivery and carry-out to reduce the spread of coronavirus, one local company is criss-crossing the city delivering food to residents confined to their apartments.
Cut Cats Couriers is an employee-owned collective of around 60 bike couriers that partner with restaurants and food delivery apps to make over 150,000 deliveries per year – but never before in the midst of a global pandemic.
The collective has added safety precautions to reduce the risk to both its riders and customers at a time when one employee-owner described the industry as providing a “lifeline at this point.”
Two Cut Cats riders spoke to Block Club about how they’re handling the stress of working in the time of coronavirus and shared tips for readers on how to keep deliveries safe. Both men stressed that they spoke for themselves and not the entire collective.
Chris Chmelik said the thought that he is making a difference, and the privilege of having a job when so many of his friends have lost theirs, has kept him moving forward the last week.
“We are kind of like a lifeline at this point,” he said, “We definitely deliver to differently abled customers…they may not make it down stairs, or are elderly, I feel like we are able to serve them.”
Faro Chladek, another veteran of Cut Cats, said the uptick in business comes at a time of uncertainty for longtime couriers who’ve had to compete with more riders to make a living. He said he has mixed feelings about working in a time when the world is shutting down.
“A lot of couriers are kind of excited for this just because the industry is so saturated right now, so many different platforms and so many riders out there that things have kind of slowed down for a lot of individuals,” he said.
Chladek, who can make 15-30 deliveries over a 12 hour shift depending on where he’s sent, said he hopes that his customers are following guidelines from health officials.
“I just would hope that people still understand you’re still gonna get a transfer of, you know, bacteria by handing things to people,” he said, “no matter what precautions you take.”
A few Cut Cats’ couriers have called off work amid the COVID-19 crisis, but Chladek said as long as he feels healthy, he’ll continue to work, while taking extra precautions.
“I like to think that I’m in good health and I’m not going to get sick, but the potential to just keep carrying it is still there,” he said.
In an Instagram post, Cut Cats alerted its customers to the steps the collective is taking to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Couriers are being asked to wash their hands as often as possible and stay at home if they develop symptoms of the virus.
“All deliveries will be made to customer’s doors & received after stepping away, undeliverable items will not be returned (excluding alcohol), cash orders will be suspended, we will be asking to sign receipts for folks or to use their own pens, & virtual payment for tips will be encouraged,” the post read.
Chladek and Chmelik shared the extra precautions they are taking and gave tips to customers to ensure the delivery is as safe as possible.
“I’m using hand sanitizer, washing my hands…and trying not to hand things off directly,” Chladek said, “leave stuff on someone’s front porch or front door…so that’s kind of like, all we can do.”
Chladek stressed that using online platforms allows the delivery to be made without a physical interaction.
“Use cashless online delivery and just be aware of the fact that a lot of these people are trying to trying to practice non hand-to-hand contact, so help us out there,” he said, “Understanding, oh you might have to come down the stairs, but it’s for everyone’s best interest.”
“Any other time I love cash, it’s kind of ironic,” he said, “cash is just one of the dirtiest things in the world and life.”
Chmelik said everything he touches is being sanitized.
“I’m sterilizing my bag after every shift, the inside and the outside. I’ll spray my phone and wiping down my handlebars, my glasses, my radio, my headphones, all of that stuff,” he said.
“Some of the people we’re delivering to are clearly very nervous, and some people are going about it like it’s another day. So there’s a lot of different coping mechanisms,” he said.
Not only are couriers taking extra precautions, Chmelik has noticed customers and building managers have stepped up safety measures as well. High-rises are asking couriers to leave the food in the lobby, and retirement homes and some health facilities have asked that the food be left outside the door.
“I really care about people’s livelihoods,” he said, “We literally are all in this together, you know, this doesn’t apply to one demographic, literally everybody is going through the same thing.”
Chmelik said most of his friends work in the service industry and he feels fortunate to have a job right now, although he does worry about additional measures the government might take, such as closing restaurants entirely.
“If there’s a shelter in place, obviously we’ll abide by that, but we’ll be out here until someone flattens our tires, you know what I mean?” he said.
Cut Cats Couriers receive a cut of each delivery they make, with a small percentage going towards operations and the rest to the courier. A list of their clients can be found on their website.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
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