ROGERS PARK — When temperatures drop like they did this week, food delivery orders spike, restaurant owners say.
And the single-digit temps aren't stopping the guys on bikes who are making the deliveries.
North Side bicycle delivery riders were out in force as hungry Chicagoans ordered in to avoid braving the weather themselves.
"I’ve got a snowmobile suit, long underwear, two pairs of socks, heavy-duty boots, hats," said Craig Gernhardt, of Rogers Park, who started delivering food on his 9-year-old bike for a few Morse Avenue restaurants this winter. "I bundle up the best I can to stay warm."
But no matter how many layers he dons, "the toes and fingers" still go numb.
Gernhardt's main customers are Morse Gyro and GrillIn. When orders come in over the phone, or from services like GrubHub and LivingSocial, he picks up the food, stuffs it into an insulated bag and peddles up and down side streets in search of an address.
"The worst part of this job is taking off the gloves to punch in a phone number" when a customer doesn't answer the door, said Gernhardt, who delivered food to a personal record of 29 customers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"I'm not a spring chicken doing this," said the 52-year-old, longtime bicyclist, "but I enjoy it."
Business is good when the extreme weather hits, says Dave Lobo, who runs Raptor Delivery, a bicycle delivery service in Lakeview.
Our orders "probably rise 25 to 30 percent in extreme cold," he said.
Lobo dispatches 14 riders from an office at his restaurant, New York Deli, and they all layer up on frigid days such as Tuesday.
He said his riders share a mantra to stay warm: "Have no fear if you have the right gear."
And they get creative.
When the Chicago blizzard of 2011 dumped two feet of snow on the city, some of the riders fixed studs on their bikes' tires to keep from sliding on black ice, he said.
And on the ride back from deliveries on especially cold days, they'll often make use of microwaved hot gel packs meant to keep food warm.
"Sometimes they end up inside their jackets," Lobo said.
Eddie, the manager of GrillIn who wouldn't give his last name, said bike delivery guys, such as Gernhardt, "are faster than cars" because they can zip down alleys and against one-way streets.
Eddie says he sees a spike in delivery orders, too, when the temperatures dip below freezing.
"On Monday, we did at least 50 percent more deliveries than we normally do," he said.
Faisal Dossa, owner of Morse Gyros, gave a simple reason for the uptick in sales: "No one wants to walk around in this."