Guy Meikle thought he had a creative plan to bring in diners to his restaurant during the COVID-19 crisis. Meikle owns Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar, which sits on the border of Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park, and had proposed an intimate, $100-per-person six-course meal in the restaurant’s basement. Customers could easily socially distance and controlling the flow of diners would be more manageable for staff.
Those plans were thwarted when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new indoor dining ban that went into effect on October 30. Heritage’s menus would have debuted this week, and though the restaurant had booked a few reservations, Meikle had enough time to cancel food orders with vendors.
Meikle, who is also a restaurant consultant, felt he and his staff had figured out a way to generate dollars during this difficult time. If it weren’t for his consulting, Meikle says Heritage would be in jeopardy.
“It’s hard to say that my business plan is ‘let’s see what the weather is everyday,’” Meikle says. “But that’s kind of what it’s turned into.”
Heritage opened in 2017 with a menu that included Korean and Polish flavors. The concept was inclusive of a many diverse family histories. Though caviar can be thought of as an expensive item reserved for the rich, Heritage showcased it in a way where it felt accessible without pretension. The restaurant has patio tables with heaters, but wanted is still looking for more revenue streams. They’ve also taken to the general store model to sell pickles, oysters, and bread.
Meikle had called the basement dining experience “the Study,” with a maximum of 10 people in the room. After the state took indoor dining off the table, Meikle asked some of this loyal customers if they were interested in an at-home party. Going to a customer’s home will increase the price he’ll charge, but it’s another way to keep workers employed. Meikle says a few took him up on the offer and he’s hopeful other customers will, too.
Beyond the private gigs, they’ve launched delivery for the first time with items liked a shaved lamb sandwich that’s inspired by classic Chicago Italian beefs with Heritage’s own giardiniera. They aren’t employing a third-party service. Meikle says staff wanted to deliver the food themselves using Meikle’s catering truck. There’s also pickup.
Meikle has seen how people have demanded restaurants to close while ignoring the workers’ needs to pay bills. He mentions one of this employee who is pregnant and how members of Heritage staff moved their schedules around to ensure she would get as many shifts as possible. They wanted to ensure the expectant mother had the most chances to provide for her family.
The priorities have changed for Heritage during the pandemic. Meikle loves culinary creativity, but he’s fighting for survival: “It’s not just about serving cool food anymore,” he says.