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Chatham Businesses Thriving Despite Indoor Dining Ban

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Believe it or not, restaurants in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood are thriving. They are bucking the trend there and actually hiring, according to at least one business. Others say they are seeing sales increases because what was once looked at as a disadvantage on the South Side is proving to be profitable.

At Doughboy's Chicago on 71st Street, the dining space is small, but its owners are big on ambition.

"As entrepreneurs you have to be innovative," said co-owner Chris "Doughboy" Fryison. "You have to know and actually pivot in these moments."

Chris and Nicole Fryison opened during the pandemic, so the takeout and delivery concept is rooted in the business model. When the state order came down banning indoor dining, it didn't faze them. They already know what works.

"We were able to come out the gate already with that framework. Our sales have increased week to week because of that," Chris said.

"The South Side differs from our North Side counterparts because we don't have a lot of indoor dining," said Nedra Fears with the Great Chatham Initiative.

She said that helped the about 20 restaurants she works with feel prepared for new COVID-19 restrictions. They have never really banked on indoor service, and takeout is only getting more popular.

"I would say that maybe a third of the restaurants, their sales have equaled or exceeded what it was in 2019," Fears said.

Some, like Brown Sugar Bakery founder Stephanie Hart, are even hiring.

"I just hired a person to be an overnight baker. And I'm looking for folks to cut cake and actually do cake assembly right now," Hart said.

She is bouncing back after having to close her small, limited-seating shop for seven weeks. But in that time she created a website, strengthening pickup services.

Her fellow businesses on 75th Street followed similar paths. Now they are getting orders from across the city.

"We're used to adapting. We're used to surviving," she said. "It's unfortunate because I would have liked to have more sit down restaurants on the South Side, but with this particular instance and with this particular scenario, it has worked to the benefit of the businesses."

Another factor in increased sales is grocery store closures after civil store unrest that have also pushed more people to takeout. Many are now ordering big family meals on discount.

A majority of the businesses in the area got the paycheck protection loans and grants from the government, which initially helped them retain some staff and build on what they have now, but owners say the community is stepping up just to support as well.

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