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Fifty/50 Restaurant Group Opens West Town Sites To Keep Struggling Workers Fed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The coronavirus pandemic has the restaurant world reeling.

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reported, one restaurant group in West Town is helping to feed workers struggling to get by,

The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group's kitchens are shadow of their former selves. The group once operated 19 locations, but they are now down to three.

"It's devastating to us," said Fifty/50 group owner Greg Mohr. "Most of our places are closed."

Mohr said in the process, they laid off about 600 people - almost their entire staff.

"We see these people every day. We work side-by-side with these people," Mohr said. "And so to tell them that they don't have a job anymore, it's tough."

Mohr got choked up with emotion as he spoke, and he is not the first small business employee Gerasole has talked to who did so.

"It's hard," Mohr said.

Yet in spite of that, the restaurant group is cooking in the kitchen.

The Fifty/50 group is working with donations from Maker's Mark spirits and Chef Edward Lee's foundation from Kentucky.

The West Town Bakery and Diner, 1916 W. Chicago Ave., is making its debut at as the Chicago Restaurant Workers Relief Center.

Laid off workers can come by and pick up a meal from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., as well as a bag of groceries. The relief center will be operating seven days a week – all for workers gut-punched by the basic shutdown of the restaurant industry.

At the Fifty/50 sports bar at 2047 W. Division St. in Wicker Park, meals are being offered to anyone in need. It's being made possible by a sizable anonymous grant from a tech CEO.

Hiring back 25 workers, the Fifty/50 group is now prepared to provide as many as 750 free meals and grocery bags a day to impacted workers.

"They are living check to check, and so to cut them off is hard," Mohr said.

Ariel Dervin, a veteran of five restaurants, is one of those workers.

"I am basically worried about how I am going to be spending my savings," said Dervin, of West Town.

Dervin was laid off two weeks ago. She has paid off her utilities, but making rent is not looking easy.

"We don't really know what's going to happen and where to go from here," Mohr said.

Mohr said finding a way to provide relief is a recipe for getting by.

"Honestly, if we are going to go down, we are going to do it the right way, and we are going to take care of as many people as we can as we do it," Mohr said.

on the menu tonight ... stir fry ... later this week. pulled pork tacos and meatloaf.

The menus are the same at each location, chicken stir fry for Tuesday night, and pulled pork tacos and meatloaf later this week.

Whatever is cooked up, it's a recipe for kindness in tough times.

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