EDGEWATER — Tom and Geri Foley opened Broadway Cellars in 2006 and have survived the Great Recession, rising costs of doing business in Edgewater and the first eight months of the coronavirus pandemic.
But with new restrictions on indoor dining and a predicted brutal winter for the restaurant industry, the Foleys were unsure how much longer they could hold on.
“You’re back to questioning if you can make it just on take-out,” Tom Foley said. “There’s just no way to survive the winter like this.”
That’s when neighbors stepped up.
A friend of the Foleys launched a GoFundMe to help make sure Broadway Cellars, 5900 N. Broadway, survived the remainder of the pandemic. In less than two weeks, neighbors have raised over $18,000 for the neighborhood bistro.
The funds will hopefully allow the Foleys to stop taking money from their personal bank accounts to keep the restaurant afloat, while allowing a neighborhood favorite to survive the crippling pandemic.
“We’re trying to stay out of personal debt,” Geri Foley said. “Every day we look [at the GoFundMe], we both get emotional. The outpouring from the neighborhood, it’s overwhelming.
“It will allow us to wait until another stimulus,” Geri said. “That’s our hope.”
Tom and Geri met while working at Lincoln Park restaurant Rose Angelis, which closed after 25 years in 2016.
When they decided to open their own restaurant, the couple chose the corner of Rosedale Avenue and Broadway, across from the Broadway Armory and neighboring favorite Moody’s Pub.
Broadway Cellars opened in September 2006. The upscale dining spot became a favorite of neighbors and has hosted numerous birthdays, anniversaries and charity events, the Foleys said.
“We liked everything going on in the neighborhood,” Tom said of opening in Edgewater. “It was changing, but people have stayed here. We thought it would be a good fit.”
Like many local restaurants, business has been up and down over the years. But the Foleys have seen nothing like the ongoing pandemic, they said.
After signing a lease extension in the spring, the pandemic swept into Chicago.
Fine dining isn’t always amenable to take-out orders. Immediately after the pandemic set in, the Foleys switched up their menu, had employees do delivery and began experimenting with the best days and hours to open.
Business “almost dropped off” entirely during the spring, but outdoor dining and the allowance of some indoor service allowed Broadway Cellars to do about half its average business this summer, Tom said.
“For the restaurant business, that’s not tenable,” Tom said. “You can’t make a profit off it.”
In early October, an employee contracted coronavirus, causing the business to close for about 10 days. Then more service restrictions were instituted, just as outdoor dining dropped off.
The couple has dipped into their own finances to keep Broadway Cellars afloat, but a $15,000 water heater expense at their home capped the amount they could extend to the business.
“It’s our personal money that has kept it afloat,” Geri said.
Seeing the financial strains the couple was under, Geri’s friend Liz Mallon decided to step in.
Mallon said the Foleys have helped her family with fundraisers before, even flying to a Florida fundraiser just as they were getting Broadway Cellars established. The couple has given to countless other local fundraising efforts as well, Mallon said.
“Tom and Geri treat everyone as family quite genuinely,” said Mallon, who lives in Elgin. “I could see the stress on both of them as they were doing everything they could think of to stay open and keep all of their employees on payroll.”
Mallon got the couple’s permission to launch a GoFundMe, and began spreading the word among customers and people who know the Foleys.
In about 10 days, the fundraiser blew past its $15,000 goal. As of Thursday, the tally stands at just over $18,000.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Mallon said. “The money is a great help but I think the outpouring of love to these two wonderful people is just as important right now.”
The funds will go to pay Broadway Cellars’ bills and help keep retain its staff through the winter months to come.
The hope is the money keeps Broadway Cellars afloat until coronavirus is under control, allowing the restaurant to be there for neighbors when life returns to normal.
“The Edgewater customers, they’re incredibly loyal,” Tom said. “They’ve really been hanging with us.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.