Restaurants near campus eager for return of students

Pita Pit, located at 2404 N. Lincoln Ave. in Lincoln Park. Pita Pit lost close to 50 percent of its business during the pandemic.

Pita Pit, located at 2404 N. Lincoln Ave. in Lincoln Park. Pita Pit lost close to 50 percent of its business during the pandemic.

In the past week, DePaul’s campus has come back to life: For the first time in nearly two years, students crowd sidewalks between classes, groups of freshmen aimlessly roam Fullerton Avenue looking for parties and students return to their favorite spots to grab a bite.

No one is more excited for the revival of student life than local restaurants. A year of virtual learning and social distancing took a toll on restaurants near DePaul. Now, locals are seeing students’ return to campus as a sign of the return of a pre-pandemic local economy.

Dog Haus, a fast food joint in Lincoln Park, said they’ve already seen business improve as students return.

Roberto Armando, owner of Dog Haus’ Lincoln Park location, said his franchise is, well, out of the dog house.

“It’s only been two weeks, and I can’t begin to tell you how positively impactful it’s been,” Armando said. “As far as our sales [and]crowds, for the first time, we’ve had students, Labor Day weekend. It’s like the perfect storm of amazing for us.”

Armando said sales were okay before students came; now they’re better than ever in the location’s three and a half year history.

“It’s just like, wow,” he said. “I could not imagine it.”

Many of DePaul’s 20,000 students never stepped foot on campus during the 2020-2021 school year, with classes held almost entirely online all three quarters and a greatly reduced occupancy in on-campus housing.

Zeyad Sbeih, owner of Pita Pit on Lincoln Avenue, said the decreased student presence in Lincoln Park resulted in a loss of around 50 percent of his business.

“We’re right by campus, and then a lot of students live this way,” he said, gesturing to the area west of Halsted. The lost foot traffic from students in the area forced him to cut costs.

“I cut my hours and cut staff,” he said.

Sbeih fired seven people — a lot for a small business. He also saw a drastic decrease in catered events.

“[We lost] most of our catering,” he said. “We did two or three events every day. Then it fell to two or three a month.”

“Last fall, it was, like, dead in here,” said Lilly Burmett, a shift lead at The Bagelers Coffeehouse.

A year later, business is very much alive.

“Now we’re having to increase our restocks,” Burmett said. “Since this time last year, we’ve had a 35 percent increase in gross revenue.”