CHICAGO (CBS) — Restaurants struggling during the pandemic are offering Christmas meals to go and pickup for the first time ever – and it’s not to make extra dough on the side.

One owner told CBS 2’s Marissa Parra the effort is needed to stay afloat at all.

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It has been at least nine months since restaurants first had to get creative – and at this point, they’ve tried everything. Between outdoor dining and heated tents, holiday meal kits are just the latest effort in the fight to stay in business.

Erick Williams is owner and executive chef at Virtue Restaurant, at 1462 E. 53rd St. in the Hyde Park neighborhood. He told Parra that on Christmas Eve last year, the scene at the restaurant was something that one wouldn’t recognize today.

“Last year, the restaurant was open. It was vibrant. It was hard to get in. It was bustling,” he said.

Feeding people is a calling for Williams. But this year, that looks a little different.

“Acrobats have to be nimble,” Williams said, “and that’s definitely something that is needed by restaurants these days in order to survive.”

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This Christmas Eve, the crowds of last year are nowhere in sight. Instead of seats filled with patrons, the tables were occupied by boxes and bags of Christmas meal kits for the first time ever.

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“For Christmas, we offered either ham or short ribs, with collard greens; macaroni and cheese,” Williams said.

It might be Christmas, but the Southern flair is still in the cookin’ – just like it was with the first round of meal kits on Thanksgiving.

Parra asked Williams if Thanksgiving helped.

“Yes, it was a stopgap,” Williams said. “However, it’s not enough.”

Behind the excitement of being able still to do what he loves – sharing art through cuisine and feeding Chicagoans – the reality is that the meal its are only good for that, and just barely meeting the bottom line.

“There’s an assumption that restaurants are doing, you know, Thanksgiving feasts or Christmas feasts so that they can be profitable,” Williams said. “We’re way away from profit. We’re doing what we’re doing to ensure that our team members are in positions to stay afloat.”

If you missed picking up your Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, many restaurants will still be offering meals and cocktails for New Year’s Eve.

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