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South Loop

Manny’s Deli Begs Customers For Support With Downtown Workers Gone: ‘We Are Struggling. This Isn’t A Joke’

The South Loop cafeteria, a mainstay for politicians like the Daleys and Obama, used to serve 1,000 people a day. Now it's serving just 200.

Manny's Deli

SOUTH LOOP — Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen, one of Chicago’s oldest and most revered restaurants, is struggling in the wake of coronavirus and needs their customers to support them.

“We are struggling. This isn’t a joke,” owners wrote on social media Tuesday.

The cafeteria-style deli and coffee shop, opened and owned by the Raskin family since 1942 at 1141 S. Jefferson St., issued a public plea on both Twitter and Facebook because of struggles its faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdown.

On Facebook, Manny’s posted “Please read: As of today we have no North Shore orders for Friday. We are counting on suburb deliveries because people are still hesitating to dine-in. If you live in Deerfield, highland park or Northbrook area, please tell your friends to order Manny’s for dinner on Friday! Thank you in advance for your business. Order here.

On Twitter, the restaurant was more to the point — and dire. In a Tweet that has been retweeted more than 600 times, restaurant owners said simply: “We are struggling. This isn’t a joke. Support your fav deli for dinner tonight.”

Reached by phone Tuesday, fourth-generation co-owner Dan Raskin, said the 300-seat restaurant that used to serve more than 1,000 people a day is currently serving about 200.

“I wouldn’t say at this time that we’re in danger of closing,” he said. But “the way things are looking, it’s not looking good anytime soon.”

Raskin said the restaurant received help from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program but it isn’t enough to sustain the restaurant over a long period of time.

“ It was great, it definitely did what it was supposed to do. We kept all our staff working through that time, but it was an 8-week program…That’s over and done with,” Rskin said. “I think when the government did that program they were thinking it was going to be a two-month issue and we are looking at minimum, January or February right now.”

He also said Manny’s has been hurt because many downtown workers are working from home.

“In the beginning of COVID it looked like a two-to-four week thing but now it looks like there’s no end in sight,” Raskin said. “…When you talk to people who work in offices downtown, my friends have told me their offices are going to be closed until the end of the year at least. For downtown restaurants it’s really when people go back to their offices, if they do ever go back.”

Raskin also said catering, which accounted for about 15 percent of their business, has totally dried up.

“We’ve had events booked every weekend that we’ve had to give deposits back, we’ve had catering that was cancelled, we’ve had no catering since then,” he said.

Raskin said that in the beginning of the pandemic, they were able to give food to their staff, which remains at about 40 employees, but lately they’ve had to stop that.

“For the first two months of COVID, we made it our goal to keep our staff employed and we were sending meals home with them to make sure their families were eating and obviously over time you can’t keep doing that unless you have business to support our funding,” he said.

Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who wrote an essay about Manny’s in 2017, said the thought of losing the mainstay does not sit well with him.

“It’s one of those Chicago culinary hubs where the street meets City Hall. To lose it would be to lose a valuable cross-section of every cultural vestige of our city,” Fitzpatrick said.

The mix of working stiffs, politicians, business people and others is what makes Manny’s unique, Fitzpatrick said.

“I learned so much about how Chicago works just sitting in there and watching. It’s absolutely a fascinating part of our history. There isn’t a politician in the city who doesn’t go there from time to time. They like to get their street cred because the Streets and Sans guys go there,” Fitzpatrick said.

Chicago historian Dominic Pacyga said losing a place like Manny’s would be losing part of Chicago’s “soul.” The surrounding neighborhood, now home to chain stores like Target and Home Depot, has changed so much in 50 years but Manny’s was the “last respite.”

“It’s an icon. Every politician in the city went there for lunch from the Daleys to Obama,” he said.

As for getting more loans, Raskin said he’s trying to avoid that route.

“Some of the other programs, there are loans but this is a margin business that we don’t really make that much money. I don’t really feel comfortable borrowing money to pay back when you don’t know when you’re going to be able to pay it back. We did a large remodel 4 years ago and spent a lot of money and still have to pay that. We don’t want to take on more debt, even if it’s low-interest debt. It’s just not smart,” Raskin said.

He also said from a business standpoint that it would make more sense to close for the time-being, something that Manny’s is not doing yet.

“It would make sense to close for right now, we are running negative every day. We’re being optimistic and every day I’m trying to think of more ways to bring in revenue,” Raskin said. “We divided our dining rooms up into multiple dining rooms so we can maximize it. We have tables spaced out and have plenty of seating. It’s just such a small percentage of what we had before.”

Raskin said he’s trying to stay optimistic and is asking the public to patronize Manny’s more during this period.

Manny’s is currently open 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.

“We’re looking for support from customers. We would like them to come in and come in more often so that it’s worth it for us and that we can stay open.”

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