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‘Counting’ on each other: NIU census efforts support local businesses

April 20, 2020

Jeff Dobie has been adjusting to a new normal since bars and restaurants across the state were ordered to cease dine-in operations last month.

Jeff Dobie, NIU alum and owner of Fatty’s Pub and Grille

The owner of Fatty’s Pub and Grille said he has been relying on loyal customers to support the DeKalb eatery by ordering delivery or carryout.

And Huskies have responded.                           

Thanks to an innovative program designed to encourage students to complete the 2020 Census, Dobie has seen welcome traffic on Lincoln Highway.

“It’s a cool thing – especially in this day and time that we are living with the coronavirus – to see a line of cars in our drive-thru,” Dobie said. “Everyone is in their car but still you see a gathering of people with smiles on their faces; it’s a great side effect of this promotion.”

Students who completed the 2020 census line up outside Fatty’s in DeKalb to receive a complementary meal from NIU.

Fatty’s Pub and Grill is one of 10 area restaurants to benefit from the Huskie Census Completion promotion which offered students an opportunity to earn a free meal for taking part in the 2020 Census. From April 1-17, participating restaurants were given the students’ orders ahead of time and NIU paid for the meals at the end of the day.

Additional local businesses that participated in the Huskies Census Completion promotion included  Faranda’s/The Lincoln Inn, Common Grounds, Tom & Jerry’s, The Huddle, Pita Pete’s, Jamrah, Burritoville, The Junction and Fanatico.

“These events allow us to promote the census to our students and hopefully increase the response rate,” said Meg Junk, chief of staff to the Dean of Students.  “The census is really important to local and state funding and services and state representation; it is up to all of us to secure these things for our communities.”

Junk said the promotion is a win-win, helping students who are feeling the impact of the coronavirus and supporting local businesses who need customers.

“What NIU is doing is bringing us business,” Dobie said. “Our goal since this all started is to find a way to stay open and to keep our employees employed.”

On the days that Fatty’s was scheduled to participate, Dobie said he knew he could count on having a busy day.

“We are able to schedule extra staff – many of them NIU students – and they know that they are going to get the hours coming to them in their paycheck,” Dobie said.

Complementary meals were also provided by Fanatico restaurant in DeKalb.

Jennifer Groce, director of Community Promotions in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, said the DeKalb area restaurants have responded with sincere appreciation and true Huskie Pride. 

“They have been excited to see our students drive through their businesses, enjoy their food and help the community with the important efforts to count everyone for the census,” Groce said. “Owners have expressed how much they miss the students and how great it is to be able to provide them a little comfort and encouragement during a tough time for everyone.”

Junk said it’s also provided an opportunity to stay connected – at a physical distance – with the Huskie community.

The Junction was another popular meal location for students who completed the 2020 census.

“This has also provided us an opportunity to check on our students,” Junk said. “Hopefully it’s another piece in the effort to let our students know that we care about them and we want to do everything we can to support them.”

Dobie said as a former NIU student and local business owner, he feels supported by the university.

“NIU drives the business and I would not be where I am today without the university,” Dobie said.

Go to Huskies Count for more information on the 2020 Census.