The Dinner Club thrives
Business up 20% with ‘shelter at home’
By Steve Metsch
Because it is in food service, The Dinner Club – a different kind of company – is remaining open in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, serving a purpose to many.
It’s not a restaurant. It’s not a grocery. It does sell meals.
The Dinner Club, 359 N. La Grange Road, La Grange Park, has seen a 20-percent increase in sales in March as more people are ordering meals to pick up there.
The original business concept has been tweaked in response to efforts aimed to curbing spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier in March, before smaller gatherings were required and before restaurants and taverns were ordered to shut their doors, The Dinner Club management decided to no longer allow customers – as had been the concept from the start 15 years ago – to come in and prepare meals with help from employees.
Now, customers order meals that are prepared on site by employees – never more than six in the kitchen at one time and all practicing proper social distancing – and those meals are picked up later.
The Dinner Club is owned by Brookfield residents Joyce and Fred Clarkson, and her sister and brother-in-law, Cindy and Rich Bielik, of Homer Glen.
“We make it easy for people to come and make dinners or pick up dinners then can prepare at home,” Joyce Clarkson said.
“The idea is we do all the shopping, we do the chopping, we do the cleaning up. So, basically, you’re making a meal at a station in 10 minutes or less by using all the ingredients we have in front of you,” Clarkson said.
Meals are frozen for use later.
“People may not need it every night – they may have spaghetti or order a pizza – but you’ll always have food you can prepare for your family,” Clarkson said
Operations Manager Stacy Vandenberg, left, and co-owner Joyce Clarkson have seen business booming at The Dinner Club in La Grange Park with “shelter at home” in place in Illinois. Photo by Steve Metsch.
It’s a way for busy parents to serve healthy meals and is cheaper “than spending $100 taking your family out to dinner,” said operations manager Stacy Vandenberg, of Homer Glen.
“We’ve really seen an increase (in business). Many are regular customers who are planning ahead,” Vandenberg said.
Employees wear gloves and are changing them constantly, along with steady scrubbing of surfaces, Vandenberg said: “Sanitizing has always been a No. 1 priority, but we’ve taken it to another level.”
“A lot of our customer are feeling overwhelmed going to a grocery store, finding out they are short of ingredients they need. We’re literally giving them every part they need for a meal,” Vandenberg added.
Vandenberg called dealing with the virus “surreal.” Clarkson said it’s unlike anything she’s seen.
“We’ve never made every meal … People like the idea that they made the dinner. We’re taking that away, but we’re still giving them an assembled meal,” Clarkson said.
The variety is big with 14 recipes to choose from each month.
The March menu includes Maibu Chicken Burritos and Moroccan Chicken with Baked Couscous. Among April offerings are Vodka Sausage Rigatoni, Shrimp Portofino and Mississippi Beef.
Prices start at $30.99 for a full-size meal that serves four to six and $17.50 for a half-size meal to feed two to three. Meals can be made for serving up to 12. 2. The bigger the serving size, the more you will pay.
Customers often pay ahead and staff will take meals to their vehicles parked in the strip mall where The Dinner Club is based.
Some, Vandenberg said, leave a check in the trunk and pop the lid open from inside their vehicle to minimize the chance of perhaps transmitting the virus.
If an employee were to test positive, the business would be closed for a two-week quarantine, Vandenberg said: “We’re praying every day that doesn’t happen.”
“Since Day One, we’ve told people if you are sick, or exposed to someone who is sick, don’t come to work. Since the onset of Covid-19, if someone even has a cold in your house, don’t come to work,” she said.
To be proactive, The Dinner Club followed CDC recommendations before they became regulations.
For example, the CDC recommends groups not larger than 10. At The Dinner Club, no more than six employees are working in the spacious prep area at one time.
Kareena Murphy, left, and Carrie Hogan have been busy preparing meals at The Dinner Club. Photo by Steve Metsch.
One recent morning, employees Kareena Murphy, of Alsip, and Carrie Hogan, of La Grange, were busy preparing seared pork tenderloin with merlot-shallot sauce meals.
Asked about the coronavirus, Hogan declined comment while Murphy said, “Oh, boy, let me think about it. That will make me want to cry.”
Moments later, Murphy said, “My main priority is keeping my family safe and doing everything possible here that we can to help our Dinner Club people and also keep them safe.”
For more information, call The Dinner Club at (708) 579-3433 or visit www.thedinnerclub.biz.
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