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Teibel's giving 100% of gift card sales to employees in need
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Teibel's giving 100% of gift card sales to employees in need

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Teibel's giving 100% of gift card sales to employees in need

Longtime Teibel's employee Mary Thill, who has worked at the Schererville restaurant for 23 years, delivers a curbside meal to a customer. 

Teibel’s Family Restaurant, the long-running landmark restaurant at the Crossroads of America intersection in Schererville, has many longtime employees like Mary Thill, who's worked there for 23 years. 

Regulars at the Calumet Region institution know employees like Thill well, and feel for them in their current plight as the global coronavirus pandemic shutters dining rooms across the state and nation. That has cost countless restaurant industry workers hours, jobs and income, and led to questions about where and when their next paycheck will come from.

"Customers will come for curbside pickup to pick up a perch dinner and ask to add a gift card for the staff," Teibel's owner Paul Teibel said. "The staff has always taken such great care of the customers. They have great memories over the years, appreciate the staff and do what they can to help them out."

The eatery is helping its employees through a hard time by donating 100% of those gift card sales to them.

Teibel's, the 91-year-old lake perch palace at 1775 U.S. 41 that's also known for its fried chicken made with an old family recipe from Austria, employs about 100 workers normally. But it's down to a skeleton crew after Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered the temporary closure of restaurants and bars to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"A lot of staff need the help," Teibel said. "We're just trying to stick together as a crew, like a family, to make it through this."

Teibel's opened as a 12-seat diner in 1929 just before the economy cratered during the Great Depression. Brothers Martin and Stephen Teibel started selling sandwiches and chicken at the small eatery at U.S. 30 and Highway 41 in Schererville that would eventually become known throughout the Midwest for its boned and buttered lake perch, and become one of the Region's best-known meeting places for business functions, holiday parties, family gatherings, class reunions, weddings and anniversaries.

"They were cooking fried chicken through the Great Depression and World War II, which was another incredibly difficult time for a business to stay open," Teibel said. "When you starting thinking what's happening, you think about the challenges the community has faced. It's tough to think about it but it's one of those situations where we're all trying to do the best we can."

With no dining room and a big drop in demand, Teibel's has been forced to sharply cut back on its headcount for the foreseeable future, with uncertainty about when the restrictions on public gatherings will end and it will again be safe to venture outside the house.

"It’s been difficult. Sales are definitely affected when we have fixed costs, the same as any family, and not as much money to pay the bills," Teibel said. "Part of it is also we have to be smart about the virus to stay open. We can only bring in people we know are separated from the public so we can keep going and don't have an issue."

Teibel's rolled out curbside pickup and home delivery within a five-mile radius, and even further if it's outside of peak hours. Customers can order online or over the phone and have the food dropped off in their truck, back seat or porch if they don't want to come into contact with a person. The restaurant plans to continue to operate with an essential-services exemption when Gov. Holcomb's stay-at-home order kicks in Wednesday.

"When you're stuck at home it might be nice to go out for a drive for curbside pickup to take your mind off things and give yourself a break," he said. "It's important to support businesses in the community. A lot of businesses are supporting each other. We're ordering a taco package from one of our favorite restaurants this week." 

Teibel asked for patience as many local independent restaurants in Northwest Indiana are offering curbside pickup for the first time, by dint of necessity.

"A lot of restaurants in our area didn't do curbside pickup before," he said. "These are local places, mom-and-pop-type places. They have to iron out stuff. If you had a poor experience, give them another chance. They're relying on curbside to keep that business afloat and help their staff."

Teibel was reading news stories about what businesses around the country were doing to assist their employees during the public health crisis, such as donating 20% of sales to staff, when he thought of the gift card idea. Customers can take out any amount on a gift card, which can be used when Teibel's reopens for dining-in, and all of the proceeds will go to employees, he said.

The restaurant will mail the gift cards out or hold them for customers when it reopens for dining in.

"You can get a $20 gift card, or literally any amount," he said. "Some customers have left large gifts." 

Teibel's employees have been hanging in there and hoping life and their paychecks will return to normal soon.

"We're staying in communication and they're very stressed out by the whole situation," he said. "People have worked here for 20 years to 30 years and are a like a second family. It's tough and it's stressful on all of them. We're trying to stick together. This is a time for us not to physically come together as a community but to be there for each other to get through this tough time. We're all trying to adapt and do what we can to come out the other side stronger than we were."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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