The day Chicago officials announced the closure of restaurants in March 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, Dos Urban Cantina (2829 W. Armitage Ave.) lost nearly $30,000 in unused product. It was a sign of the struggles the team, especially owners Brian and Jennifer Enyart, would have to overcome.
“We lost about 20 to 30 grand in food and product because the shutdown came so suddenly,” said Brian Enyart. “Then, we tried to do our old menu the first day of takeout and did about $60. What we found was you need lights, you need service, you need music, you need the whole package to do things the way we were used to.”
Amid The Pandemic, A Reset
Amid the struggles the hospitality industry faced came a unique opportunity to reevaluate operations and start anew. Never before had restaurant owners been given the chance to pause operations and reflect on how they could provide their staff the level of pay, benefits and quality of life that reflected their work, Brian said.
“What I’m seeing now from Logan Square restaurant owners that I know is that we’re trying to take this opportunity to reset and reboot and not just bring it back the way it was,” said Brian. “Almost every aspect of the day we’ve had to retool and rethink to make it better for everybody. How do we make a little bit more money, how do we be more flexible with people’s schedules, how do we get them a little bit more money? This is hopefully our only opportunity to level everything and build it from the ground up again, and we’re trying to look at that as the silver lining of what we’re all going through.”
This shift in thinking has affected Dos Urban Cantina’s entire essence, from reduced seating within the restaurant to a much simpler, taqueria-style menu, a big pivot for one of Logan Square’s top restaurants. While initially meant to support the business when it could operate solely as a takeout restaurant, the COVID-19-era taqueria-style menu has given the owners flexibility to spend more on staff, reduce costs, and keep the team from getting overworked and overwhelmed.
“The new menu is a lot more sustainable, but the old menu is a lot more fun,” said Brian. “The problem was the staff kept a really great pace with me and were excited to do it, but I realized I was pushing them too hard.”
That focus on supporting the restaurant’s staff led the owners to come up with creative ways to equip their workers with the tools and knowledge to one day take on more responsibility in the restaurant or move on to their own ventures. Dos Urban Cantina has given its space up during nonbusiness hours to explore popups the staff and community are interested in, including a sandwich shop on weekend mornings and an agave-focused cocktail popup at the end of August, and has offered the use of its facility as a “teaching kitchen.” This has transformed the Enyarts from bosses to mentors in their employees’ lives.
Baby Steps Forward
What’s next for Logan Square’s Mexican stalwart remains to be seen, as the past two years taught Brian and Jennifer to approach future plans with more caution, keeping an eye out not just for themselves, but for their team.
“Part of the perils of what we went through in the pandemic centered around how we get out of it,” said Brian. “Now, our more realistic expectation is to ask what do we want to do in the next two weeks? Then two weeks after that? We’re making short, baby steps now instead of leaps of ambition.”
Dos Urban’s new, more adaptable approach to business faced another challenge recently when the restaurant’s building suddenly launched repairs that blocked off Dos Urban’s entire patio with scaffolding. Given only 24 hours notice about the project, Dos Urban had another in a seemingly endless line of setbacks – but the team is more ready to handle those than ever, Brian said.
Dos Urban Cantina Favorites Return, New Specials On The Way
For now, customers can look forward to the return of some former menu items, both to the regular menu and as part of two specials per week the team is introducing. The popular sikil pak dish (a hummus-style dip made from pumpkin seeds) has returned, and recent specials include P.E.I. (Prince Edward Island) mussels and seared salmon. You can stay up to date with all of the new specials at Dos Urban’s Instagram page.
While the restaurant’s famous happy hour is still on hold, be on the lookout for the beginning of Taquito Tuesdays, when chef Brian and team will serve variations of taquitos alongside beer and shot combos. These offerings will serve to test what sort of specials the team and customers will most enjoy. Look for the patio to reopen around the end of August and for the team at Dos to continue selling some of Chicago’s best tacos.
The goal of the Dos Urban Cantina team has always been to provide a warm, comforting experience for guests and employees, Brian said. Given the opportunity to reflect, the Enyarts have pushed themselves to truly live by that mantra.
“It’s up to people like us, the restaurant owners, to say how do we take a step back and make the business sustainable but also use what we have to enrich not only our guests’ lives, but our staffs’ as well,” Brian said.