‘It’s the pandemic that got me’

Branden McDonough/Livingston County News An exterior view of Geneseo Family Restaurant. The popular Main Street restaurant in Geneseo closed on Feb. 21.

GENESEO – After learning the Geneseo Family Restaurant would closing its doors after 23 years in business, one SUNY Geneseo alumna sprung into action to help send the restaurant’s owner and employees off to the next chapters of their lives with some cash in their pockets.

Caroline Gill graduated from the college in 2020 with a degree in sociology. During her time in Geneseo, Gill spent many a morning in at the restaurant, known as GFR to locals.

“I would usually go to GFR on the weekends after a night out with friends, but also found so many other occasions that called for a GFR meal,” said Gill, whose go-to order was the Mexican frittata with white toast. “...It was always a great, affordable, convenient and tasty place to gather with friends.”

Gill was at work Thursday when she saw on Instagram the restaurant was closing. She immediately when into her father’s office – they work at the same company – to break the news.

“My parents both attended Geneseo, and that’s where they met. I (literally) wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Geneseo,” said Gill. “I also texted my younger sister, a prospective Geneseo student, and two of my best friends to share the news. They were equally as shocked and saddened as I was.”

On the drive home from work Thursday evening, Gill started kicking the idea of starting a fundraiser for the restaurant’s staff.

“As soon as I got home, I reached out to GFR through their Facebook account and offered to run the GoFundMe on their behalf. I think they were reluctant to agree to the offer of help at first but, after discussing it, agreed,” Gill said. “...(Owner) Ted (Tsoukalos) has been extremely concerned about his staff. While the idea of help might initially have been uncomfortable, it is my understanding that Ted and his family made the decision mostly for the benefit of their dedicated employees. With their permission, I shared the page and within a few minutes, the donations started pouring in.”

Among Gill’s hopes for the fundraiser are, obviously, that it raises funds to help owner Teddy Tsoukalos and his staff.

“I worked in food service from age 16 to20 and understand how even a slow day or weekend can impact your pay (not to mention an entire year). I cannot begin to imagine the stress that food service workers and business owners have endured over the past year,” said Gill. “Finding a job (in the middle of a pandemic, nonetheless) is difficult. I hope that the money raised can provide some financial stability for Ted, Lauren, Lucy and Nicole while they begin the next step of their journey.”

Beyond the money, Gill hoped the fundraiser would show how much the restaurant, and the people that worked there, meant to those who frequented it over its more than two decades in business.

“The overwhelming amount of support in the last 24 hours alone shows that GFR has made a difference in the Geneseo community,” Gill said. “I’m hoping that GFR will see the love and support surrounding them and know that they have achieved a great thing.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $4,900 against a $2,000 goal.

Gill said she’s been blown away by the support.

“The Geneseo community, as I have always known it, is selfless, caring, and strong,” she said. “To borrow a phrase from the SUNY Geneseo pamphlets, the support that has been shown to GFR over the past day reinforces the idea that ‘There is no place like here.’”

Some donors who are also SUNY Geneseo alumni shared memories of the special times they had at the restaurant.

“GFR was a staple of my Geneseo experience,” commented Olivia Wolfram, who gave $20 to the campaign.

“Thanks for all the great meals when I was a Geneseo student,” wrote Brittany Hartnett, who also gave $20. “My family loved coming to GFR when they visited as well. Wishing you all the best.”

“Such fond memories here as a college student,” added Rebecca Hauck, who gave $50. “Sending love and hope!”

As the County News previously reported (click here to read more), GFR owner Teddy Tsoukalos announced last week he was closing the restaurant, which had been a staple of Main Street since February 1998.

Tsoukalos said the coronavirus pandemic and related dining restrictions made it hard to turn a profit.

“It the pandemic that got me,” he told the County News. “I do not take no loans and I thought I could pull out of it but I just can’t... ever since the pandemic hit, it has been downhill.”

Gill said, in accordance with Tsoukalos’s wishes, the GoFundMe campaign will end Sunday at 3 p.m.

To access the fundraiser, click here.

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