The hospitality industry has taken pride in helping Chicago’s community through the years, whether it’s a gift card donation for a charity raffle, opening up an event space for a fundraiser, or just providing customers with a space where they could be themselves and enjoy a meal. Now, one of those groups helped by restaurants wants to return the favor as the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry. Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) has organized an event for Thursday to encourage customers to order food from restaurants that have supported the LGBTQ community.
Today, supporters can order meals from any of the 63 selected restaurants, and enter to win prizes. Participants include Yoshi’s Cafe, Vincent, El Nuevo Mexicano, Big Chicks, and Nookies Edgewater. Many of these restaurants are in Boystown, but also go as far south as Cherry Circle Room in South Loop. The event will hopefully generate business to these allies in the same way as campaigns like The Great American Takeout.
TPAN is a group founded in 1987, as HIV and AIDS tore through the LGBTQ communities. The organization was formed to address a void in health care, and one of its biggest events is Dining Out For Life, a fundraiser that was postponed due to the pandemic. The event, which raises about $4.3 million annually, relies heavily on restaurants which donate sales to the chairty. TPAN officials decided to flip the script and try to help restaurants by creating Thursday’s event. It’s a way to say thank you, says TPAN Director of Development Bryant Dunbar.
“They were there when we needed a space to have dinner, and — to be blunt — when we needed to mourn,” Dunbar says of restaurants. “The pandemic has revisited so many of the feelings we had during the HIV epidemic.”
Dunbar has heard heartbreaking stories from restaurant owners, such as Maria Rodriguez of El Nuevo Mexicano in Lakeview. She tells him that her staff routinely saves money from their paychecks to send back to their families on other countries. In some ways, the pandemic has hit those immigrants harder than others. Event organizers are hopeful that the people who have asked restaurants for help in the past can support these small businesses in their times of need.