Beloved Big Guys Sausage Stand closing counter service due to pressures from pandemic and beyond

Big Guys Sausage Stand will close its doors later this month as COVID-19, inflation and corporate greed put the pinch on restaurateurs nationwide.

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Big Guys Sausage Stand owner Brendan O’Connor, right, and line cook Jose Franco, in grey, prepare orders while customers wait for their orders at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The shop, which opened in 2012, is set to close its counter service “indefinitely” on September 24 and will focus on providing catering services, according to their Facebook page.

Big Guys Sausage Stand owner Brendan O’Connor, right, and line cook Jose Franco, in grey, prepare orders while customers wait for their orders at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The shop, which opened in 2012, is set to close its counter service “indefinitely” on September 24 and will focus on providing catering services, according to their Facebook page.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“It’s not just one thing,” Brendan O’Connor, the owner of Berwyn’s Big Guys Sausage Stand, said just before checking with a staff member to see whether another employee had shown up. “If it was, we’d overcome that.”

On Friday — after two years of coronavirus pandemic-related adversity — O’Connor announced he’s halting counter service at the beloved west suburban eatery at 7021 Roosevelt Rd., switching to catering Sept. 26.

The only things that allowed his homemade-style takeout joint to survive this long?

“Hopeless optimism” and a “solid staff,” O’Connor said.

But his business has been facing insurmountable overhead costs due to factors that can’t be blamed on COVID-19.

“We know corporate greed is a huge factor in this,” O’Connor said. “In April ‘21, we started seeing these crazy price increases beyond the supply-chain issues we saw during COVID. At some point you realize this isn’t just inflation or the supply chain. Someone’s getting rich on this plastic that I need.”

Big Guys Sausage Stand owner Brendan O’Connor sits outside the restaurant in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Big Guys Sausage Stand owner Brendan O’Connor sits outside the restaurant in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The cost of plastic cups used for cheese dip has skyrocketed, and chicken and potato prices have increased nearly tenfold, according to O’Connor, who started making his own mayonnaise when prices ballooned for that.

These increases have been felt on the consumer side, with the prices for food “away from home” growing nearly 10% in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Meat and poultry prices have risen at a similar rate, federal officials say, though dairy and related products have shot up more than 16%.

A cook prepares an order at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

A cook prepares an order at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The pandemic also brought new ways for restaurants to survive, but those created new threats as well. O’Connor said he ditched third-party ordering apps like GrubHub and UberEats because they were inflating his prices as much as 30% per order — and then tacking on processing fees.

On top of the cost, O’Connor said he’d spend hours trying to get refunds for orders that weren’t picked up — often a fruitless endeavor.

“The consumers aren’t winning, the restaurants aren’t winning, but DoorDash is doing great,” O’Connor said.

After his longtime chef left a few months ago, O’Connor said he’s had issues keeping a reliable staff. He said he raised pay again last year to compete with corporate chains that he says can offer equal or higher pay for less work.

“I don’t know how to offer that pay and still get people to buy my food,” he said.

Big Guys Sausage Stand cashier Luis Lopez brings a tray of burgers and fries to Antonio Caldarone, 41, his mother-in-law Jody Weber, 70, and his kids at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Big Guys Sausage Stand cashier Luis Lopez brings a tray of burgers and fries to Antonio Caldarone, 41, his mother-in-law Jody Weber, 70, and his kids at Big Guys Sausage Stand in Berwyn, Ill., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Antonio Caldarone, 41, stopped by to say goodbye to the stand Saturday with his 11-year-old daughter Marina on the way to her soccer game.

Big Guys has “been a big part of a lot of people’s lives,” the 15-year resident of Oak Park said. “Chains have their place, but these local places bring character to the community.”

O’Connor said he wants to collaborate with other businesses to utilize the counter space, in addition to monthly popups.

And he’s excited to get back to what started his venture into the food business nearly two decades ago.

“I love catering,” O’Connor said. “It’s something I can have a lot more control of. Running counter service is like a jump ball every day.”

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