LOGAN SQUARE — The chef and owner behind acclaimed Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería is feeding Logan Square families in need and keeping some of her employees paid thanks to a national restaurant relief initiative.
Diana Dávila is one of 30 restaurant owners across the country participating in a new initiative called The Power of 10, launched by Washington, D.C.-based chef and restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang.
Funded by Capital One bank, the effort is designed to keep restaurants running and people fed amid the coronavirus pandemic. More than 35,000 meals have been donated from the participating restaurants so far, according to the project website.
“It helps out everyone. It’s great for the restaurant and for the neighborhood,” Dávila said.
As part of the initiative, restaurants are required to partner with a local organization to reach people in need. Mi Tocaya partnered with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
At the recommendation of the Logan Square organization, Dávila and her staff are giving out the meals at a select group of local public schools in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools’ meal pickups.
The following schools are participating:
- Brentano Elementary Math & Science Academy, 2723 N. Fairfield Ave.
- Monroe Elementary School, 3651 W. Schubert Ave.
- McAuliffe Elementary School, 1841 N. Springfield Ave.
- Yates Elementary School, 1839 N. Richmond St.
- Kelvyn Park High School, 4343 W. Wrightwood Ave.
Last week was the first week of meal giveaways for Dávila and her staff. They gave out 800 meals — Mexican stew with carrots and zucchini, rice with local corn and greens — to people in Logan Square.
The giveaways drew lines down the block.
At Monroe Elementary, “100 meals were given out in less than five minutes,” said Norma Rios Sierra, chair of the board at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
Dávila said cooking meals and giving them to people in need “feels good,” especially given how difficult it’s been navigating local and federal relief programs over the last several weeks.
“Things have been so crazy with the CARES Act and [Paycheck Protection Program] and trying to save your business, and even with to-go orders you don’t get to see people,” she said.
When the dine-in ban came down in mid-March, Mi Tocaya closed and started taking to-go orders. But that only lasted one day, Dávila said.
“At the end of that day, I was just like, ‘I don’t think this is the right thing to be doing right now,'” she said. “We just thought it was the safest thing to not jump into it.”
Last week, Mi Tocaya reopened for takeout and delivery service three days a week.
On top of takeout/delivery service and meal giveaways, Dávila plans to host mini farmers markets on Mi Tocaya’s patio every Sunday featuring just one local farmer at a time. She expects to have the details nailed down in about a week.
“So many people need vegetables and miss that,” she said.
Dávila is devoting the rest of the week to preparing, cooking and handing out meals for The Power of 10 initiative.
From a business perspective, Dávila said the initiative is attractive because they get paid each week to fulfill a certain number of orders. She was also able to bring back six employees.
“It provides stability in such an unstable time for a small business like us,” she said.
Delivery and takeout service is unpredictable, especially now, she said.
“I’ve had two nightmares, recurring nightmares. The first one is that I didn’t graduate high school. That went away. The one that took over is Mi Tocaya opens and nobody comes,” she said.
Dávila is planning to keep the meal giveaways going for the next four to five weeks. Those who are interested should check the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s Facebook page for exact pickup times and locations.
On the menu this week is chicken tinga with smashed potatoes and a zucchini and cabbage slaw.
Rios Sierra, a member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, said Dávila’s meals are a hearty supplement to the food given away by CPS.
Like so many restaurant owners, Dávila is also trying to figure out what life will look like when Chicago restaurants and bars are allowed to reopen for patio service.
The uncertainty of it all makes her even more grateful for the Power of 10 initiative.
“It’s all incredibly confusing,” Dávila said of the state’s reopening plan.
The initiative, however, is “pretty straightforward,” she said.
“It is all about community, neighborhood restaurants and obviously employing people and providing meals to people,” she said. “It really is great. I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
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