Just like Home
The owners of Dakota 94
I couldn't count how many times customers ask why Dakota 94? What does it mean? Who's from Dakota? Why 94? Well, here it is! Fresh out of college with a BS in Math and Theater from Black Hills State University in South Dakota, and just finishing up 8 years in the US Army as a combat medic, (I know she's a unicorn) Kayla came to Chicago from Watford City, North Dakota with her friend Phil to see what the big city was all about, and thank god she did. After getting their U-Haul towed as a welcome to Chicago the first night they were here, walking into a dirty apartment in a questionable area, they, against all odds, decided to stay. (Nice job Chicago)
Peter is a city boy who went to Northeastern University and was thinking about going into teaching, but while running the Wrigleyville Rooftops, fell in love with the restaurant industry, so he and his brother decided to open the first Kanela Breakfast Club restaurant in Lakeview, close to their beloved Cubbies and Wrigley Field. Being a first-generation full-blown Greek (or Spartan in his words) it was in his blood to run a restaurant. Kayla's friend Phil ended up getting a job at Kanela and eventually introduced his boss to his roommate. That is the beginning of the story of how this amazing power couple ended up touching the lives of so many people. (Talk about fate) The 94 connects Peter's hometown of Chicago to Kayla's hometown in North Dakota.
Six Kanela restaurants, 2 kids, and 8 years later they decided to open Dakota 94 in May of 2019. They wanted a good restaurant close to their home in Sauganash. (And we are so glad they did!) Little did they know, less than a year later a worldwide pandemic would cripple the restaurant industry. Thousands of restaurants closed their doors permanently, but these two wouldn't allow that to happen. Owning and operating 7 restaurants in a pandemic is challenging, to say the least. We went from a brand new, busy, bustling restaurant, to an empty building. with no way to survive unless we were able to adapt...but adapt to what? Nothing like this had ever happened in our lifetime. The outside was dangerous, no one was ordering food, we had no way to pay our workers, and all the things we took for granted in life were put on pause. The first couple of weeks of the shutdown were rough. There were no employees and online ordering platforms were tremendously expensive. They did what they had to do to get the ball rolling. They cooked, delivered orders, and forwarded every call to their cell phone just so nothing would be missed, among MANY other things, all with their two young kids running around the restaurant and trying to figure out E-Learning. With the support of the wonderful surrounding neighborhoods, a couple of weeks later we were busy enough and fortunate enough to bring cooks and servers back to work. These two wouldn't close, long mornings and long nights, the restaurant became home. We even joked we should just put cots in there and sleep at the restaurant.
They made sure everyone stayed on payroll, that the restaurants remained open no matter what it took to get through a week. They even started a fund to donate to the servers who weren't able to work. They also created a free lunch program for students who could not go to school. With help from donations by the community, any child could stop at Dakota 94 Monday-Friday and pick up a free bag lunch and a bottle of water. If all this wasn't enough to test their resilience, there was a bad storm during all this (seriously, I know) that knocked out the power in the area for 3 days. We didn't have a backup generator and all of the food was going to spoil. They again found a way to make the situation a positive one and asked me to make a post and tell everyone from the neighborhood to pick up a bag of food so it doesn't go to waste. On Christmas day they donated Prime Rib Meals to a homeless shelter this year because maybe that meal would brighten their day, and make it a little more special for them. The way that they adapted to the current situation at hand was quite remarkable, and every person that works at any one of the restaurants knows it wouldn't have been this way if these two weren't there, and ready to do whatever it took to keep us open. We were truly in all of this together.
They are two of the most selfless people I've ever encountered in my life. I'll never forget when the governor got on TV and said all restaurants had to close. It was like a brick was dropped on our chests. Imagine having 150 people all wanting to know how they were going to make money to support their families, and also thinking about how you were going to support your own children. But they did it! (I knew they would!) So stop by have a bite and help support a great restaurant with two amazing owners who treat all of their employees and customers just like family. Everyone asks what kind of food do you guys serve? We serve home-cooked meals because that's the feeling you get when you come to Dakota 94. It feels just like home.
Written by Maria Proa