'It's like a godsend': Suburban businesses get pandemic relief from The Barstool Fund
At a time when so many businesses have struggled mightily to stay afloat, or sadly didn't make it, six suburban business owners got unexpected, precious help from the fundraising effort called The Barstool Fund.
Among the recipients of thousands of dollars each are a dry cleaners in Palatine, a restaurant in Elgin, a diner in Skokie, a restaurant in Northbrook, a bar and live music venue in Geneva, and a ballet academy in Wauconda.
The fund was launched in mid-December by Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, a sports and pop culture site, to raise money for businesses that have suffered due to COVID-19. So far it has raised $37.5 million from 225,146 supporters and has helped 332 businesses across the country, according to its website.
Brothers Bill and Constantine Zavacos, who built Sunmade Cleaners in 1985 in Palatine, received $30,000 in January that they used to pay the businesses' property taxes, Bill Zavacos said. The pandemic caused them to initially lose more than 95% of their business, although now it's back to about 40%.
"I can tell you, it saved our business," he said of the Barstool donation.
Monique Howery, owner of Moni's Soulfood Fiesta in Elgin, said she's received two payments of $5,000 per month so far and was able to rehire three staff members she had to let go in December.
"I am blessed, I am excited and I am definitely most grateful for them stepping in," said Howery, who opened her restaurant in September and applied for the fund at the suggestion of her pastor.
Ken's Diner, which has been in Skokie for 45 years, used two payments in February and March totaling $20,000 to pay employees, said Daniel Hechtman, who owns the kosher eatery with his brother, Kenneth. With business picking up, the brothers decided to contact The Barstool Fund to say they didn't need any more help, Hechtman said.
"You can't take money you actually don't need," he said. "My brother and I decided we were going to let someone else have it."
Michael Knuth, owner of EvenFlow Music & Spirits in Geneva, said he used the first $8,000 payment last month for payroll and utilities. He expects a $6,000 donation this month.
"I want to say 'thank you' in capital letters. Big time," Knuth said. "Thank you, Dave, and thank you, Barstool ... because without their help and generosity, my business would have closed."
Pete Weiss, owner of the restaurant Little Louie's in Northbrook, said he got a $25,000 lump payment he used to pay rent and payroll.
"I think that it means that there is a lot of good in the world, and it's nice to see people helping people, instead of the opposite," Weiss said.
To apply for The Barstool Fund, business owners have to send a video and demonstrate financial need. When a business is selected, Portnoy places a video call to give the good news to the business owner, which leads to joyful and often tearful interactions posted online.
Academy of Ballet Wauconda didn't respond to requests for comment. During her video call with Portnoy, academy owner Melissa Hayden said: "I want to thank you for what you've done for everybody. You're an inspiration to all of us businesses."
It's unclear whether more businesses will get the coveted call. Funding announcements had been coming at a rapid clip since December, but the last one posted was March 24. A representative of Barstool Sports didn't answer an email seeking comment.
Portnoy is a controversial figure. He has used racist and sexist language and has been accused of fostering misogyny and online trolling. He has largely shrugged off his detractors.
The suburban business owners said that no matter what, Portnoy has done phenomenal good with his fundraising initiative.
"Everybody has good and bad (qualities)," Bill Zavacos said "This guy is unbelievable. Not just him, but all The Barstool Fund in general. It's like a godsend."
Howery said she didn't know anything about Barstool Sports before applying but has caught some of its podcasts since.
"It's crazy," she said. "I think that's OK. Honestly, I think them being outrageous is what sets them apart. It's sometimes not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing."
Knuth agreed. "To me, personally, he's a person that's fighting for people that can't fight for themselves. He has a voice, and he's using it."
• Daily Herald staff writer Rick West contributed to this report.