A pizzeria in Chicago now offers customers two ways to give back to their community during the coronavirus pandemic: They can pre-purchase and donate free slices to people facing food insecurity or pitch in to send complimentary pizzas to beleaguered hospital workers.
Jaime Gamez, owner of Big G’s Pizza in Wrigleyville, set up a post-it note wall in his shop, allowing customers to pay in advance for slices that can be redeemed by any person in need. The concept is similar to one that earned fame for the now-defunct Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia a few years ago.
Meanwhile, Gamez is also delivering customer-donated pizzas to hospitals across the Windy City.
Gamez hopes the strategy, which has earned considerable free publicity for his shop, will also bring more orders in so he can keep the doors open and prevent layoffs during the coronavirus crisis.
“Everyone’s life and world has been turned upside down,” he said in a SquareSpace video interview, “so we’re just trying to figure out how to … do what’s best for my employees and our community.”
Each post-it note on the wall represents a prepaid slice—cheese, pepperoni or mac and cheese—that anyone in need can use. “We want the word to get out,” Gamez said. “We want people to know they can come here if they’re worried about what they’re going to have for lunch.”
The initiative started with a focus on hospitals. Gamez reached out to friends, family and social media followers, asking them for donations to help buy pizzas for doctors, nurses and other staff members working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. He then decided to let customers donate slices to help anyone in need, such as kids who depend on free or discounted school lunches or workers who have been laid off from their jobs or seen their hours reduced dramatically.
For the large pizzas offered in the promotion, Gamez cut his prices from $20 to $10 to make them more affordable. To ensure more participation, Gamez posts pictures of delivered pizzas and their hospital recipients on social media and tags both the recipients and the people who donated the money for the pizzas.
Donations have poured in from across the U.S. and other countries, including Dubai, Colombia, Guatemala, the Netherlands and the UK, according to Gamez.
A former teacher, Gamez opened Big G’s Pizza in 2012 across from Chicago’s iconic Wrigley Field. He said his sales have suffered in the past few weeks as the coronavirus spreads. “We’re a seasonal neighborhood,” he said in the video interview. “With our summer months, with the Chicago Cubs playing baseball, we’re really, really busy.”
But winters are a different story, and Gamez has to budget carefully for those slower months in order to stay in business. He said his weekly sales at present amount to roughly 50 percent of the sales of his slowest winter week. “We definitely have taken a huge hit in our sales,” he said.
He said he’s not sure if he wants to apply for a small business loan provided by Congress’ recently passed stimulus legislation. “I’m hoping that I can avoid that at all costs,” he said. “If we can ride this storm out for the next four months, there’s a possibility that we can make it without one of those loans.”
And if he can keep hospitals functioning more smoothly in the meantime, even better. Supplying healthcare workers with free pizza “brings a smile to my face just even thinking about it,” he said in the SquareSpace video. “It’s something that has really helped me deal with the stress and the anxiety of being a business owner and worrying about my staff and worrying about how I’m going to survive all of this and avoid being sick.”
“This [pandemic] will probably go down for another couple of months,” he added. “At some point, people are going to be in a much tougher spot. So I’m really hoping that we can help as many people as possible for as long as we need to.”