Someone to be thankful for: Lake County restaurateur delivers for first responders
When the global pandemic hit, Kris Schoenberger, the owner of BBQ'd Productions in Lake Zurich and Third Lake, made it his goal to give 10,000 meals to medical personnel and others on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
To date, his restaurants have given out more than 15,000 meals to COVID-19 first responders and those in need.
Nearly every donated meal is paid for by a community member. In March, Schoenberger and his team created new menu items -- a $6 sandwich and a $12 platter -- that customers can buy and donate through the restaurant's website.
Each sale nets the company a few cents in profits.
"The price covers paying for the food, for the employee to prepare it and to keep the lights on," Schoenberger said.
Over the course of the year, Schoenberger has personally delivered thousands of donated meals to police stations, fire departments, doctors offices and hospitals.
Earlier this month, Schoenberger dropped off hundreds of meals for a Chicago-based veterans group in time for Veterans Day. He said delivering donated meals can feel like business as usual at this point, but seeing the veterans, many of whom were injured or unable to find work, really drove home how what he and his team were doing helped people.
"When people are wearing face masks, it's hard to see when they're smiling. But when they are smiling so big you can see it through their face masks, that's a real victory there," Schoenberger said. "It hit me, and it was one of the few times I got teary eyed because we were able to do something so big and make a difference in 600 veterans' lives."
He credits the strong local community for buying meals to be donated. A lot of the engagement comes through social media.
"The most important thing for us is staying true to our community," Schoenberger said. "We've been an open book since day one. People want to know who we are and we try to relate to them as much as we can."
Schoenberger said in March that if his restaurants can stay afloat this year and pay the bills, he would worry about making money later. His outlook is a bit more grim these days.
"Now we are a ship that's slowly sinking," Schoenberger said in November. "We're able to keep bailing the water out and keep coasting, but if this keeps going for much longer we're going to get tired of fighting."
He estimates the pandemic has cost his restaurants about $1.6 million in lost sales from dine-in customers, canceled festivals and large catering events.
"That's a lot of money that's gone and never coming back," Schoenberger said.
Schoenberger said making it all the more frustrating is that large corporations and fast-food chains are doing well because of all the drive-through business. He said he was able to add a drive-through lane to the Third Lake location, which has helped business.
To make an order to be donated, visit wegrillitall.com/store/category/corona-virus-relief.