CHICAGO — With a line that stretched out the door and down the block Wednesday, Chicagoans flocked to Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen after learning the Chicago institution was in trouble because of coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Manny’s took to social media to alert the public the restaurant at 1141 S. Jefferson St., in business since 1942, was in trouble.
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.”
On Facebook, they wrote: “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 Wednesday, supporters came out in droves and waited in a line that went out the door to savor 6-inch-thick corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, brisket, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup and other longtime favorites.
Mark Lazerus, a senior writer at The Athletic, attempted to support Manny’s on Wednesday but didn’t have time to wait in the long line.
Lazerus, who lives in northwest Indiana, saw the restaurant’s tweet Tuesday and planned to go there for lunch after attending a Chicago Blackhawks practice for his job.
“When I saw their tweet, I thought, ‘Oh s—-, gotta go there tomorrow.’ I left after practice and saw the parking lot and all the street parking was full. Then I went around the corner and saw the line was out the door and around the building,” Lazerus said. “… I guess I’ll try again tomorrow,”
Lazerus said he was glad to see the quick response from customers.
“It was sad to see that tweet yesterday that they were struggling and I’m sure it took some pride-swallowing to do that, but I was glad to see a lot of people rallying around it because so many people love that place,” Lazerus said.
After learning Manny’s was struggling, fans — from random Chicagoans to world famous statesmen, much like the cross-section of people who patronize the restaurant — took to social media to spread the news.
David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and architect of his presidential campaigns, tweeted in support.
Lina Lee, a former New Yorker now living in Chicago, tweeted, “Put Manny’s on your list, people! #supportlocal #chicago”
Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, who wrote an essay about Manny’s in 2017, took to social media Wednesday and offered anyone who could show him a receipt from Manny’s this week a free poster of his renowned artwork.
By 1 p.m. Wednesday, Manny’s owners took to Twitter again, posting, “We are crying with joy — Chicago, you came through.”
Third-generation owner Ken Raskin said he was humbled by the response.
“It’s been wild. The response was tremendous,” Raskin said. “My only regret was that there were a lot of first-timers and we weren’t prepared for this onslaught.”
Of course, a one-day bump in sales is not enough to sustain a restaurant through a crisis with no clear end in sight, Raskin said. No restaurant is safe from financial trouble during the pandemic, he said.
“The people’s awareness has been awakened to the fact that even iconic places that have been around and people may think, ‘Don’t worry about them’ — everyone is having a problem right now,” Raskin said.
Manny’s is currently open 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.