When an employee of La Principal Mexican restaurant went to the doctor late last week, it seemed routine. The worker, says restaurant owner Eric Young, had knee pain. No symptoms of COVID-19 whatsoever.
But that employee soon ended up in the hospital, with COVID, and is still there. And so Young decided to close his popular Main Street restaurant, temporarily, but still, shutting the doors.
In an emotional Facebook post, Young opted for full disclosure, explaining “other employees have tested positive” as well. “I could have easily said we’re closed for some deep cleaning, we’re going to take a little time off, or made up some other nonsense,” the post explained. “Instead, I’m choosing to be completely honest in the hopes that you may know what hospitality and other ‘essential’ employees deal with on a daily basis. COVID is real, it is uncontrollable, and it’s not getting better.”
La Principal’s neighbors and customers appreciate the honesty. Diana Hamann runs the Wine Goddess store, which shares a wall with La Principal. “His customers all love him,” Hamann says. “The staff is beloved in the community.”
So Hamann has started a GoFundMe “Employee Relief” effort, to help La Principal’s ten or so workers through the shutdown. “The staff is like his family,” she says of Young.
Young is continuing to provide health insurance for his employees during the shutdown, but tells Evanston Now he is “completely floored and touched” by Hamann’s efforts to help his staff. More than 60 people have contributed, with $5,000 raised so far. And 125 people on Facebook have wished Young, his restaurant, and his staff a quick medical and financial recovery.
Those Facebook comments went like this: “Thank you for your honesty. We will support you when you reopen …” said one customer. “La Principal is a bright light in Evanston,” said another.
Because La Principal never had indoor dining during the coronavirus outbreak, it seems unlikely that customers were infected. Food pickup transactions generally lasted a couple of minutes or less.
Young hopes to reopen in about a month. He says he wants to “pump the brakes” to give staffers who have the virus time to recover. Young and other workers are on a two-week quarantine.
In his Facebook post, Young’s frustration as well as concern come out. “‘Essential’ employees are forced to slap on their baby blue masks and face the virus just to make ends meet,” he says. “Despite following all the rules, here we are — two people quarantining with the health of their families waiting to be determined, and one person lying alone in a hospital bed struggling to breathe. All of this to sell some tacos and margaritas.”
Young says he has been able to text with the hospitalized employee.
The Facebook post concludes by asking friends of La Principal to support Evanston businesses, “so we will have a robust community to reopen for when we finally do.”
“Do that,” he says, “get out, and wear your damn mask.”