2020 has been a crazy year for many. It has produced many dark and depressing news headlines which make it difficult to sometimes see the good that still exists in this world. But there is one Chicago restaurateur whose kindness is making 2020 a much better year for animals in need.
Back in 1992, when Eduard Seitan was just 19-years-old, he moved to the US from Romania. His story of immigration is one of persistence that paid off. He came to the country without any prior knowledge of the English language and for the first few months, he worked in construction.
But then his knowledge of Italian got him a job as a food runner at Club Lucky, an Italian restaurant. As the years progressed, Seitan studied English and eventually got promoted to server and then eventually, head server.
Then in 1997, one of the restaurant’s bartenders asked him if he wanted to be part of a new restaurant opening. And that is how he came to be a partner in One Off Hospitality Group, which opened the Michelin-starred restaurant Blackbird. It also owns 10 other Chicago-based restaurants, such as Avec, The Publican, and Big Star.
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Seitan was truly living the American Dream until March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The coronavirus has taken a devastating toll on the restaurant and service industries. And Seitan was not spared the hard times.
Both Seitan and his One Off Hospitality partners stopped drawing salaries when the pandemic hit, but even with that they still had to furlough over 700 employees. They’ve even seen two of their restaurants, including Blackbird, permanently shut down.
As Seitan explained to TODAY, it has been a “devastating” time to have to tell his employees about the layoffs as well as not be able to give his employees a concrete timeframe of when they might be back up and running. And it isn’t just the restaurants of Chicago that are suffering, this is nationwide. According to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, more than 100,000 restaurants have closed on a permanent or long-term basis because of COVID-19.
The 48-year-old Seitan has already said he’s worried about the winter months when outdoor dining will be next to impossible – something that many have already started to notice thanks to the cool autumn evenings. Plus, he’s worried about a second lockdown approaching, especially with spiking coronavirus cases. Seitan’s restaurants are already struggling to stay afloat with their mortgage payments as it is, with them only being able to offer takeaway and operate at a 40% capacity.
Despite all the stress and anxiety that he is under, Seitan has found a way to cope. The restauranteur owns his own plane, and he’s been doing a lot of volunteer flying for the nonprofit, Pilots N Paws. The charity organization is a nonprofit network of volunteer pilots who fly rescued dogs and cats from high-kill shelters to different rescues and foster families across the US. Seitan has been flying for them for two years and has personally transported more than 40 pets for the organization.
Because of the extra time he’s got on his hands as a result of the pandemic, he has been doing a lot more flying for Pilots N Paws. A huge animal lover with two rescue dogs of his own, Seitan loves what he does for the organization.
Recently, Seitan helped fly two dogs from Chicago to Ohio where they had places waiting for them in a prison dog program in Pennsylvania that helps train them for adoption.
The two dogs that Seitan helped to fly out were a German short-haired pointer named Frank and a mixed-breed dog named Hero. Frank had been found “in the middle of nowhere” completely abandoned and very scrawny, while Hero had burns that covered his forehead, legs, stomach, and back – injuries that were a result of the poor dog being used as target practice for fireworks, according to a post Seitan released. Seitan said it’s precisely this kind of cruelty that drives his passion for animal rescue.
Besides flying for Pilots N Paws, he also volunteers his time at his local Chicago Animal Care and Control to help care for their dogs as well. Seitan has also found other ways to help animals that incorporate his business. For example, during the pandemic whenever customers would order takeaway from his restaurant Avec, their meal would come with a photo featuring a dog who is up for adoption with the CACC. And because of his love for animals, One Off Hospitality also started the #WeFoster program which put their own employees in touch with local foster and adoption programs and the company covered the cost of both food and care for the animals as well!
TODAY shared that seitan has said, “I think it does so much to your soul when you start volunteering, in general, for anything. But for me, because of my love for animals, it makes me feel so good and so complete and so happy at the end of the mission knowing that I helped an animal to get to a better life.”
What a wonderful man!
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