Big Guys owner Brendan O'Connor stands for a photo on June 23, 2022, at the restaurant on Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

When Brendan O’Connor put the call out to the community to help Big Guys Sausage Stand weather a financial storm in June of this year, the restaurant had already amassed $50,000 in credit card debt trying to stay afloat during these uncertain times for restaurants. The GoFundMe buoyed his business with more than $40,000 in donations, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the closure of the beloved counter service establishment.  Sept. 24 will be the final day the Big Guys, 7021 Roosevelt Rd. in Berwyn, will be open to the public. 

“I’ve said it before, but I feel like I am working my own funeral,” said O’Connor. “I know I could figure out a way to pull this off, but at some point, I have to think of my own mental health.”

O’Connor called on the community for assistance when staffing shortages forced the decade old restaurant into a temporary closure. Grateful for the support, O’Connor used the money generated by the fundraiser to complete repairs, pay the mortgage and “keep the lights on.” There was a modest amount left in the bank when he reopened in July.

“We gave it a two and a half month run,” said O’Connor. “Business started out strong, but then it slowed down again. We were working with the minimum labor requirements to stay open, but the last month has been rough. Our business just fell off a cliff.”

It costs approximately $100 an hour to keep Big Guys open and O’Connor was quick to point out the restaurant is closed for three of those hours daily for menu prep and cleaning. To make ends meet the restaurant needed to generate $300 an hour in sales, but on recent weekdays could only muster $700 daily. O’Connor made it clear he could not compete with fast food restaurants in the area and lamented going through days without customers when he could see people lining up at nearby drive-thrus.

“This age of convenience is really a double-edged sword for independent restaurant owners,” said O’Connor. 

To make matters worse, Big Guys’ veteran cook, the “back bone of Big Guys” announced he would be returning to Mexico for at least six months making ongoing staffing challenges insurmountable for the fragile sausage stand. 

“The business just went the wrong way on me,” said O’Connor. “I had to punch the brakes before it got any worse.”

Though O’Connor is in conversations with “experts” about potentially selling the building, he intends to use the kitchen on the premises to continue Big Guys’ catering services. The owner admits he has often made up for front of the house losses with catering orders going out the back door and now looks forward to focusing solely on large scale-special events for up to 500 guests. 

For those who have come to expect a Big Guys’ style rescue at the holidays, O’Connor is clear those folks should rest easy. He will be offering all of his popular “take and bake” Thanksgiving and Christmas menu items again this year.

“I feel like I have been running with weights on for the past few years,” said O’Connor. “It will be nice to focus on catering without being stretched so thin, but I will miss interactions with customers and running daily specials.”