When a restaurant’s success runs in the family

Way back in 1988 – before the slap and the Academy Award – Will Smith, then the Fresh Prince, and his pal DJ Jazzy Jeff released the light-hearted single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Many teenagers who chuckled at the relatable lyrics have since grown up and realized their parents always had a lot more savvy and wisdom than they gave them credit for.

Parental knowledge and expertise can become lifelong keepsakes that guide and soothe in challenging times.

No one knows this better that local restaurateurs who have relied on their mothers and fathers’ tricks of the trade to keep their family businesses afloat during the pandemic, as Sandra Guy recently reported for WBEZ.

These second-generation restaurant owners struggled like their peers when dining in was off the table – but survived in part because of the expertise handed down by their parents.

Another good reason – beyond the food – to treasure and celebrate the mom-and-pop eateries that help make Chicagoland a foodie’s nirvana.

Take Steve Geffen and his wife, Shana, who took pay cuts during the pandemic so they could keep their longtime employees at their three north suburban Once Upon a Bagel locations.

It was Steve Geffen’s late father, who founded the original deli in Highland Park, who taught him to “treat others as you would want to be treated.”

Then there’s Lori Seay, who owns Soul Veg City with her brother Arel Israel in Greater Grand Crossing. Seay credited her parents’ “vision of health, wealth and sustainability” for its success. The siblings plan to carry that vision forward by making family-ready vegan meals.

Seay and Israel have shortened their hours, and when the cost of cauliflower jumps, they substitute broccoli in their meatless recipes.

Kelly Cheng, who runs her family’s Sun Wah BBQ in Uptown with two of her siblings, buys and hoards non-perishable items when they are on sale, just like her mother taught her. She also took her father’s advice to use freezer space to store seafood, reaping savings that allowed her to mark up the price of the restaurant’s signature duck dish without scaring customers away.

Other family restaurants in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs that continue to survive and thrive because many parents did and do understand.

One-sixth of the nation’s restaurants have closed since COVID-19 emerged, which makes that food for thought.

Keep that in mind the next time you’re thinking of where to find dinner. Those parents, and the children who keep the legacy going, deserve your patronage and support.

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