CHICAGO (CBS) — Restaurants across the city face a challenge: how to safely serve people in the winter? One Pilsen restaurant is unveiling a new setup to keep their outdoor dining experience alive.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Tim McNicholas reports it’s all thanks to a local design company that’s changing their game plan.

“It is like a dream come true,” said Jose Cruz, owner of Azul 18, as a construction crew installed scaffolding for a new canopy and protective vinyl shield for his Pilsen restaurant and bar.

He’s adding heaters, and the new area will fit six socially distanced tables. He’s getting it all for free.

“That will help me a lot, and I think its gonna help me not let my employees, you know, lay off,” he said.

The final product was designed and donated by Bridgewater Studio, heaters included. The South Side company is known for their creative displays at local museums and corporate offices.

Managing partner Eric Cup said they submitted their canopy design to the city’s Winter Dining Challenge design contest, but didn’t win.

“We said, well, let’s just do it. We don’t really need anybody to do it, we just need the funding. So let’s just fund the first one ourselves,” Cup said.

In the spring, with special exhibits few and far between, Bridgewater Studio pivoted, and programmed their machines to cut out face shields for first responders and medical professionals. Now they’re changing it up again.

“Honestly, when we decided to do this, it was the bright spot of our week. You know, we thought, ‘Wow, this is great,’” Cup said. “Last Friday, we were like, ‘This is a really good way to end the week.’”

Their goal is to come up with the funds to donate more canopies.

That would likely take corporate sponsorships, but Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he hopes the project will push the city to invest more in creative options for restaurants.

“We strongly believe that we must be helping small businesses, creating solutions, giving them alternatives, so that they don’t have to feel like they have to cut corners putting everybody at risk,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

The canopy will have openings for ventilation and to allow people to pass by on the sidewalk.

Cruz said, over the summer months, about 70% of his customers sat outside. He’s hoping the new setup will keep outdoor diners coming for at least a couple more months

Cup said you still might be a bit chilly in the cold weather, but the structure will block the rain and snow. The restaurant will open at 8 a.m. Thursday, new canopy and all.

Tim McNicholas