Butch McGuire’s feeds first responders while fighting to keep family legacy alive

Coronavirus

CHICAGO — Bobby McGuire is on a mission to feed first responders during the coronavirus pandemic while trying to keep the beloved Chicago staple Butch McGuire’s in business.

In its nearly 60-year history at 20 West Division Street, Butch McGuire’s has never looked as empty as it does now.

Their kitchen is still open for takeout and delivery orders, but alcohol has always been their bread and butter.

“Our liquor sales are at zero,” McGuire said. “We have high margins in this industry, 5 and 10% makes it to the bottom line. So it’s a struggle for anyone in this industry.”

While McGuire’s owns their portion of the building in the high-rent Gold Coast neighborhood, their losses during the pandemic are not sustainable for the long term.

“It still costs me $100,000 to sit here closed,” McGuire said. “That’s what I lost last month. I lost $100,000 sitting here. How many months can I afford to do that?”

McGuire’s is of course not the only bar fighting to stay afloat.

Approximately 20% of restaurants may not be able to reopen due to COVID-19, according to one estimate. McGuire’s fears that number may be even bigger and so does the Illinois Restaurant Association. 

“I’ve talked to restaurants as well, they think it (restaurants that won’t reopen) could be a third, or even higher,” Sam Toia, President of the Illinois Restaurant Association said.

Toia is currently lobbying for a federal restaurant recovery fund to help the industry get back on its feet.

Until then, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker has said it’s ok for restaurants to use their outdoor space in Phase 3 of reopening. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot isn’t moving as fast, but it’s still a good step, according to Toia.

But it’s not good enough for Butch McGuire’s, who has taken to feeding its workers and their families.

“We bought a bunch of staples and set up a grocery store on the side room and let them take what they need,” McGuire said.

Like so many in the service industry, most of McGuire’s staff has already filed for unemployment insurance.

But while the kitchen grill remains less than full-flame, McGuire — with the help of his son and what’s left of the McGuire’s team — are delivering sandwiches to the 18th Police District, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center and six firehouses covering all three shifts. That’s nearly 1,000 sandwiches to date.

It costs Butch McGuire’s about $12 a head to feed a first responder or health care worker.

So far online they’ve raised close to $12,000. A perfect way to pass the time and do some good during the pandemic.

But McGuire knows the clock is still ticking at his decades-old tavern.

“This year, already it’s over,” he said. “I’m not making any money this year. And that’s ok. I can accept that. But I can’t go two years making no money and keeping my doors open.

The Illinois Restaurant Association said the restaurant and food industry is the largest single private sector employer in the state of Illinois and the second largest in the country. Roughly half of those workers are unemployed or on furlough.

If you would like to donate to Butch McGuire’s to help them feed a first responder, click here.

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