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Co-owners/chefs George Bumbaris and Sarah Stegner hope their Prairie Grass Café will be remembered as a community hub when the pandemic is over.

Prairie Grass Café counters coronavirus crisis with partnerships

Co-chef/owner Sarah Stegner and team have ‘embraced this new normal’ with new community meal programs, curbside pick- up, pizza kits, cooking tips hotline, informational videos, wine discounts and support for local farmers and sustainable seafood.

A modern American, eclectic menu has shifted into family-style, portable meal experiences to enjoy at home. And the full-service restaurant is digging deeper into connections within the “village” to get through the crisis.

Determined to “see this through,” Stegner has kept the Northbrook, Ill. Café open tapping multiple approaches to provide for employees, loyal customers and the community at large.

For example, partnering with Green City Market, a community resource that connects farmers with those in need, Prairie Grass has produced videos about what it means to get produce from this organization.


Sarah Stegner and Tracey Vowell of the Prairie Grass Café are keeping operations afloat with a mix of strong marketing, new options for customers and good deeds for the community.

Guests, meanwhile,  are pooling their support for the café.  One customer gathered a group of her neighbors to place large orders from Prairie Grass, giving Stegner a model to sell in larger quantities. Communal ordering has caught on in other neighborhoods and settings.

“We are so grateful that during times like this, friends really pitch in,” Stegner said. “Our customers’ continued business ensures that when it is safe and legal for our employees to work again, we will still have a restaurant for them to come back to.”

That means the show much go on, but some employees were laid off, and there is a GoFundMe staff-relief fundraiser in which “all donations go directly to our laid-off staff and will be divided equally,” Stegner said.

Here are some other ways Prairie Grass Café has not only stayed afloat during this storm, but lifted up their neighbors at the same time.

  • Aggressive marketing — “We have an amazing non-stop marketing team that includes Cindy Kurman and Lee Barrie at Kurman Communications, Grace Wood on social media and Aushim Nair, our website developer, who have continued to work diligently and aggressively to get the word out about our specials and programs,” Stegner said.
  • Curbside pickup family-style menus  — The marketing team has gotten the word out about daily specials, which have included comforting family-style items such as spicy chicken chilaquiles casserole for four; pulled barbecue for two; grilled salmon with wild-rice mushroom veggie burger and a roast chicken for two. Half-off bottles of wine for delivery certainly falls in the good deeds category, as any homebound wine lover can attest.
  • A fresh fish program — On Sustainable Fish Mondays, customers can pick up pre-ordered fresh seafood to cook at home, and the selection is impressive: raw swordfish steaks, American red snapper, halibut, cod, char and salmon. Prairie Grass Café supplier Seafood Merchants makes this possible. Stegner shows home cooks how to prepare salmon in one of her instructional videos.
  • Fresh produce partners — Produce from local farmers Three Sister’s Garden and Ellis Family Farm are working with Prairie Grass Café for direct orders that can be picked up on Tuesdays.
  • Chef Sarah’s cooking tips hotline — From 2-4 p.m. every day, through a phone hotline, Stegner offers assistance to those cooking at home.
  • Kids Kitchen Crew Pizza Kit — This cool kit is available on Sundays and must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Families get pizza dough, pizza sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, cut raw veggies with dip and raw cookie dough, all ready to bake at home. There’s even an accompanying YouTube video to get the pizza party started with instructions.

Stegner said she’s looking ahead to the time to “celebrate the part we played to sustain our community during this pandemic.”

Contact Tara at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie.

TAGS: Coronavirus
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