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Biting The Hand That Feeds Them: Hyde Park Restaurant Robbed At Gunpoint, Staff Says Suspect Had Received Free Food There Before

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Litehouse Whole Food Grill in Hyde Park offers a go-to free meal in the time of COVID-19, but their charity didn't stop robbery.

As CBS 2's Steven Graves reported, the staff at the restaurant, at 1660 E. 55th St., even recognized one of the robbers.

The word Graves heard multiple times is "betrayal." During a time so many are struggling, it hurts even more knowing the crime was personal.

"I'm terrified," said Tranell Brown.

Brown was questioning whether she even wanted to come back to work when Graves talked with her on Thursday. She was behind the register of the Litehouse Grill on Wednesday night – and surveillance video showed a gun pointed right at her as two robbers confronted her.

"And he has the gun there and I'm short, so he was relaxing his hand on the counter," Brown said. "And to me, that's my heart. I'm right there."

But when she handed over the money, it is what one of the robbers said that shocked her even more.

"He was like: 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. This coronavirus got us messed up," Brown said. "I was like; 'It's OK. Take what you need. We're good.'"

Those words likely helped calm the situation and keep staff safe. But the $700 in losses is a huge hurt to longtime owner Rico Nance.

"We haven't had $700 in the register since the pandemic occurred," Nance said.

It was money that the faith-based business would have used toward charity. They have handed out multiple free meals to community since the pandemic began.

The worst part? Workers say one of the robbers has gotten some of that food itself.

"I understand," Nance said. "I wish they would have done things much differently. I wish they would have just said: 'Hey, I know you guys helped me with food, is there anything I could do for some money? Can AI work? Can I sweep the floor?'"

Litehouse is surviving off delivery and pickup orders during an unsteady pandemic economy. They were an unlucky target, as Chicago city data show a drop in robberies and overall crime almost 30 percent compared with last year.

The owner said this will not stop Litehouse's mission. But it still hurts.

"It just broke my heart," Nance said. "You don't know the sacrifices that happen when somebody decides to put ministry over money. And that's when we've been able to do."

The owner said the overall sentiment is forgiveness.

Workers do not know the name of the robber who had received free food before – they just recognized his face. At last check, police had not arrested the robbers.

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