MOUNT GREENWOOD — Marie's Cafe and Catering in Mount Greenwood will close at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Owners Dean and Allison Kochert of suburban Oak Lawn opened their quaint cafe at 3660 W. 111th St. in May 2012 — across the street from Mount Greenwood Park.
Dean Kochert said a number of factors led to the closure, including slumping sales, high rent costs, recent minimum wage increases and unfair social media posts, among other issues.
"We put our heart and soul and all the money that we had into this business," Kochert said Thursday as he made sandwiches during the lunch rush that seemed to spike as news of the closure spread.
Marie's Cafe and Catering opened at 3660 W. 111th St. on May 7, 2012 — across the street from Mount Greenwood Park. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
He is close to landing another job in the food-service industry. His wife is also lining up work, though it will be in a different field, Dean Kochert said.
Sales began to slump about 1½ years ago, Kochert said. The decline also coincided with increasing costs from his food suppliers and other vendors, but Kochert refused to pass along these costs by raising prices.
Indeed, some customers already felt that his restaurant was too expensive, said Kochert, adding that several such complaints landed on social media sites — including Facebook.
Kochert said others on Facebook were critical of his cafe for separate reasons. Often, these complaints were unfair, according to Kochert, who said he really never had the opportunity to address such issues before the damage was done online.
"We did the best we could for as long as we could," he said.
He also said his rent increased over the years, including after Marie's Cafe was featured on "Chicago's Best." The show aired April 7, 2014 and put a spotlight on the chicken panini and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Kochert said his business enjoyed a "nice bump" from being on the show, and he felt perhaps he could sustain the higher rent. But in the end, sales tailed off, and the rent became unworkable.
"It ['Chicago's Best'] kind of gave us false hope," he said.
In fact, Kochert said he hasn't paid his rent for several months, instead using the cafe's profits to pay his staff and vendors. But, those costs have risen too, particularly with Illinois' minimum wage increase.
The latest mandated increase came in July and required Kochert to pay his employees $11 per hour.
"The minimum wage increase just killed us. ... In a community like this, you can't afford those costs," he said, comparing his location tucked away in the Far Southwest Side neighborhood to others along busy stretches of commercial roads.
In the end, Kochert said he'll remember the times that friends ran into each other in his restaurant and shared a meal. Sometimes, these impromptu meetings ended by setting plans to meet again.
"That was the thing that made me feel the best," he said.
A poster in the window of Marie's Cafe and Catering in Mount Greenwood invites customers to enjoy a meal before the restaurant closes at 7 p.m. Sunday. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]