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South Side Entrepreneurs Reimagine Restaurant Business Into Retail During COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Almost everyone has been forced to get creative during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some South Side women entrepreneurs decided to turn devastation into dividends by reimagining "bar and restaurant" into retail.

When Yasmin Curtis' Bronzeville seafood restaurant shut down due to COVID-19, it hurt, but she started fishing for ideas out how to serve those loyal customers stuck at home.

"I was like, 'How can 'Two Fish' be in front of that group of people?'"

She, like the thousands of Chicago restauranteurs, had no real take-out infrastructure. But soon she had an idea for a take home - quick and easy crab boil.

"So I developed a prototype," she said. "I initially thought that I would just sell it out of the restaurant."

That is until she put her product in front of executives at Mariano's, a grocery store chain that had not seen anything so restaurant-specific. It became an instant hit on shelves.

"I was like 'I cannot believe this!'" Curtis said.

It is no surprise seeing as an early report this year from the National Restaurant Association shows those stuck at home -- about 60% millennials -- still craved those restaurant food and drink items.

Jaidah Wilson Turnbow, a South Side bar and lounge general manager, said that time at home gave her a chance to brainstorm, not ideas about food but safety. She had different retails dreams and recently got patents for silicone covers to go over glass drinks to prevent the spread of germs. 

The Frances Lounge manager said her husband dying of COVID-19 gave her all the push she needed to help others. 

"One of my goals is that this item be available nationally," she said. "People could use this at home at family gatherings because you're still worried about droplets."

"We're looking for things that excite customers, so whether it's Two fish or a product," said Mariano's Marketing Manager Amanda Puck.

She said she sees the restaurant to retail idea becoming a sticking idea beyond the pandemic.

"I think what people realize, too, is that they can have a great experience at home," she said.

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