POLISH TRIANGLE — After learning the last traditional Polish restaurant at the Wicker Park/Noble Square border was in dire financial straights, Chicagoans have stepped up to help.
Helena Madej, owner of Podhalanka at 1549 W. Division St, described her financial challenges to Block Club last week.
Since then, readers have created at least two GoFundMe fundraisers and a T-shirt fundraiser to help the restaurant. A group of neighbors have also offered up their skills to revamp the restaurant’s website and increase its web-based marketing.
Andrea Jablonski created a T-shirt fundraiser where all proceeds will benefit Podhalanka. As of Monday, Jablonski had sold 50 shirts. She said she hoped to sell 100 by the end of the week.
Jablonski, a Polish-American immigrant who used to live in Wicker Park, said Podhalanka is the “last refuge” for a place that feels like home.
“I know everybody’s going through a hard time,” she said. “The neighborhood has changed enough, it’s really rare to find a small establishment where someone like your grandma is cooking for you.”
West Town neighbor Michal Kokoszka created one of two GoFundMe fundraisers. As of Tuesday he has raised $375 toward a $5,000 goal.
Amanda Scotese, the owner of tour company Chicago Detours, also created a GoFundMe fundraiser. As of Tuesday she has raised $375 toward her $10,000 goal. Scotese’s tours often stop at Podhalanka. (Watch her “stop” at Podhalanka during a virtual tour here.)
A group of West Town neighbors with photography, web design and web marketing skills offered Madej their services. They met with Madej last week and will present a formal plan of action this week, one neighbor said.
Podhalanka has been cash only since Madej, a Polish-American immigrant, took over the restaurant in 1986. She did not partner with delivery services like Grubhub or Uber Eats during the pandemic. The restaurant is not active on social media and a website does not offer online ordering.
Madej now can offer dine-in service again, but only at 25 percent capacity in accordance with city regulations. If the neighborhood doesn’t step up to support her, the restaurant may close, Madej said.
“It would be such a shame for me to close this now after all these years of putting in my own savings,” she said in Polish. “I want to make this work. I hope that this gets better, please.”
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