For awhile, it seemed like Found was lost, and Next of Kin’s next of kin would need to be notified.
But now, two of downtown Evanston’s major restaurants are welcoming back diners, after nearly eight months of shutdown due to coronavirus-related restrictions on indoor dining, and the related economic downturn.
“It was really nip and tuck there for a while,” says Carey Cooper, one of the owners of Next of Kin, on Davis Street.
And Amy Morton, owner of Found Kitchen, on Chicago Avenue, says trying to partially stay open during some of the pandemic was actually worse than closing altogether.
“I wish I would have shut down from the beginning,” Morton says, “because once we did shut down the financial bleeding wasn’t as bad.” It cost more to keep on the lights and pay the staff than what was made from customers. Staying open, she says, was “sucking every penny out of the restaurant.”
But Found Kitchen reopened this evening, after a “soft opening” for friends and family yesterday.
And Next of Kin reopened Wednesday, actually a “pre-opening” for walk-in diners. Reservations will be accepted as of June 2.
Both restaurants first closed in March 2020 when nearly everything was ordered shut by the governor as the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Each reopened during the summer, as good weather made sense for outdoor dining, even while indoor capacity was restricted by the state.
“We rocked it for a couple of weeks in June,” Morton says. But as the weather cooled, so did business. “We desperately tried to put tenting outside,” she says, but “the City rejected three proposals we gave them.”
Next of Kin also had a decent summer, but both it and Found closed again in October, not to reopen until this week. Both places are more “sit down” restaurants than food “to go,” so takeout meals were not a financially viable option.
Now, however, with the pandemic receding, and indoor capacity limits possibly eliminated in mid-June, there is finally optimism.
“The pent-up demand is insane,” Morton says. “The number of guests will grow and grow and grow.”
But as with the rest of the hospitality industry, Found Kitchen and Next of Kin could use more employees.
“Most of our staff scattered” after Next of Kin closed, says Cooper. While “we have a good group” for the reopening, “we’re always looking for great people,” he says.
Next of Kin is open for dinner first, five days a week, and then will phase in brunch and seven days of operations as staffing increases.
At Found Kitchen, Morton says she is only offering 25-30% of the normal number of menu items, because there are not enough employees now to prepare everything.
She is even offering $500 signing bonuses to cooks if they stay for three months. “Oh my God,” Morton says, when asked about how hard it is to find staff.
Still, the doors are finally open for those who want to eat inside, and there is outside seating as well at both restaurants.
“We’re optimistic,” Cooper says. But he adds with a laugh, “of course, I was optimistic in February 2020.”
And says Morton, “We’re opening cautiously and slowly. But I expect to be really busy.”