Grocer offers Libertyville-area restaurants room to manuever
Angela Xu opened a handmade dumpling restaurant in the Libertyville Crossings strip mall on Milwaukee Avenue last November, and like scores of other restaurants in town, it has been hard hit by the coronavirus lockdown.
Now, twice a week, you can find her offering frozen versions of the authentic northern Chinese favorites from Dangela's Dumplings at Sunset Foods grocery store on the other side of town.
With the exception of a few taverns, the more than 80 restaurants in Libertyville are open for delivery or curbside service. Many have daily specials.
But so far, only Xu has taken up Sunset on its offer to provide restaurants with space inside the store. The program began about two weeks ago.
"We want to help as many restaurants in the local area as possible -- kind of like a pop-up shop for restaurants," explained Imani Harris, communications manager for Sunset Foods.
Restaurants will be given a space near a store entrance and a time slot to handle their own transactions. Sunset does not charge a fee or take a cut of the sales.
"We're looking to give them more exposure," Harris said. "We have open availability for more."
Sunset has five locations, but the program is offered only in Libertyville. Adjustments can be made if interest grows, she said.
For the past two weeks, Xu has been at the Libertyville location from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"I can feel the increase in sales, even though we've only been there four times," she said. "It's working."
Xu said she learned of the opportunity from Heather Rowe, the village's economic development coordinator. Rowe said Sunset is community-minded and has stepped up before.
As a newer restaurant, it's important for Dangela's to maintain exposure to customers, according to Rowe.
"They are very comfortable trying new marketing and other approaches, so it's not a surprise they were one of the first take advantage of the opportunity Sunset presented," she said.
Xu worked in restaurant marketing before deciding to open her own place. She uses her mom's recipes and dad's engineering expertise to standardize some processes, which she said is a key to grow the business into a franchise.
She says she is doing only about a third of the pre-lockdown sales but plans to stick it out.
Most restaurants are doing 20% to 25% of their former business and have laid off 80% of their employees, according to Scott Adams, president/CEO of the GLMV Chamber of Commerce.
During the GLMV's annual "Ask the Mayors" virtual luncheon Thursday, Adams said it has been "tremendously difficult" for restaurants to stay afloat.
Briana Cardone, owner of Mambo Italiano restaurant in Mundelein and the luncheon host, said Mambo has had to "drastically modify" procedures until the business landscape changes.
"Until then were just doing our best to stay alive and stay in business," she said.