DoorDash sign on a restaurant window
Food delivery company DoorDash has picked 26 Chicago-area restaurants for its Main Street Strong Accelerator Progtram. | Getty

More than three quarters of the Chicago-based restaurants that won are owned by women, 92% are owned by people of color and nearly 40% are immigrant-owned.

Geri Hernandez’s restaurant, Savory Crust Gourmet Empanadas, switched to solely takeout and delivery in October 2020 as the pandemic put a major strain on the costs of its branches in Morton Grove and Carol Stream.

As a small business “you’re hanging on a thread anyway,” said Hernandez, the CEO and co-founder. “When the pandemic hit, I thought we were done, that we were going to close. It was a scary time, scary for the whole year. Even now, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

Savory Crust is one of 26 Chicago-area restaurants picked to participate in DoorDash’s inaugural Main Street Strong Accelerator Program.

In all, 100 restaurants nationwide will receive a $20,000 grant, access to training support through an eight-week hands-on restaurant operator course that involves small business advising and mentorship, one-on-one financial, legal, and technological expert advice as well as free marketing and merchandising from DoorDash.

More than three-quarters of the Chicago-based restaurants picked for the program are owned by women, 92% by people of color and nearly 40% by immigrants.

Ms. B’s Kitchen & Catering owner and manager Tawanda Stange said she applied to the program for the financial assistance and the additional support services that come with the training, as well as access to the communities and networks of other restaurant owners participating.

“I was super excited. I’m still really excited. I really need this,” Stange said. “Just being involved in something like this will give me the extra push I need to take my business to another level, with confidence.”

As occupancy regulations increase, Stange plans to use some of the grant money to expand the restaurant’s dining room, allowing customers to sit and dine, a nice addition to takeout, she said. She also plans to allocate more time and money to marketing and technology.

The accelerator program, launched in February, is a partnership between DoorDash and Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit that supports small businesses with funding and business development resources. Targeting restaurants located in Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City and Philadelphia, the application was open to small restaurants owned by women, immigrants and people of color.

The Chicago-area restaurants picked for the program are La Cocinita Restaurant, Mae’s Que House, Bombay Wraps, Crazy Bird Chicken, Evelyn’s Food Love, Chocolat Uzma, Badou Senegalese Cuisine, Ms. B’s Kitchen & Catering, Back of the Yards Coffeehouse, Savory Crust, Sugar Bliss, Windy City Ribs & Whiskey, Saigon Sisters, Gayle V’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese, Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, Belli’s, JIAO, CheSa’s Gluten Free Gourmet, Josephine’s Restaurant, La Luna, Red Pepper’s Lounge, Split-Rail, Russian Tea Time, EggHolic, J’s Breakfast Club, and Dak.

“[The pandemic] has been devastating. A lot of restaurants had no chance to come back. … It’s so important that we have help here and there,” said Larry Tucker, general manager and partner in Crazy Bird Chicken.

The West Town restaurant plans to use its grant for training employees and investing in an outdoor area to make customers more comfortable about in-house dining.

“I just thought it was something wonderful that they were doing. This is when a crisis comes up and good companies reinvest in small business,” Tucker said.

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