Over the course of the pandemic, restaurants in Hyde Park have banded together through initiatives like the Kenwood Food Project and Feeding Frontliners to provide meals to medical workers and first responders.
Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen in Kimbark Plaza has been part of those efforts, and owner Amer Abdullah says his restaurant is now shifting to also provide meals to people in need.
“The strategy we use is unique,” said Abdullah. “We are asking people in Hyde Park and elsewhere to donate to Cedars, and your money won’t go into our pockets. We will actually use the money to make meals. We will use 100% of that money to make meals and deliver those meals to the hospitals.”
To date, Cedars has fed over 2,000 first responders, served four police districts and 10 hospitals. Recently, Cedars served 150 meals at the Winter Wonderland event in Englewood, according to Abdullah.
The University of Chicago Medical Center, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, Provident Hospital and West Suburban Medical Center are some of the hospitals where Cedars has delivered meals.
Although Cedars continues to host frontliner events like its most recent one at University of Chicago three weeks ago, Abdullah said Cedars is also now giving back to low-income residents.
In two weeks, Cedars will begin working with Big Shoulders Fund, an organization that provides support to Chicago Catholic schools most in need, to serve 150 meals for families in need.
“It’s starting to shift to who’s getting hit hardest on the poverty lines with COVID-19,” Abdullah said.
In 2010, Abdullah co-founded Chicago Community Trust’s Pillars Fund, an investment fund that gives money to Chicago’s Muslim-American community.
“My family always attends various Muslim nonprofit events, whether its against racial injustice or religious discrimination,” said Abdullah. “I continue today with my own personal giving with various outside organizations like Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).”
Among the donors to the restaurant was the local Good Neighbors email list, which gave a couple thousand dollars, according to Abdullah.
The restaurant has also had to deal with some internal disruptions due to the pandemic. Although Cedars is not using 80% of its facility, the restaurant still has to pay rent after the landlord rejected Abdullah's request for abatement.
Head chef Amado Lopez used to commute to Chicago from Michigan to work at Cedars. Once COVID-19 hit, Amado switched to an advisory role and permanently resides in Michigan, where he can quarantine with his family.
Abdullah also recently hired sous chef Jill Cabansag, whose newest menu item is a tahini brownie.
According to Abdullah, Kinan Moufti, general manager at Cedars since March 1, has been helping give customer service and running Cedar’s media and marketing during the pandemic.
“The vibe in our dining once you come in is super positive and joyful and great energy,” said Abdullah.
And despite some of the hardships, Abdullah said his charitable work isn't an extra burden — giving back to the community is ingrained in him since he was a child.
“It’s something I do and it’s a part of me just being able to wake up everyday."