By Lauren Victory

ELGIN, Ill. (CBS) — The National Restaurant Association just released its State of the Restaurant Industry Report and the numbers are grim: 110,000 eateries closed up shop last year, some temporarily, but many for good.

This next Morning Insiders story is a rare bright spot.

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CBS 2’s Lauren Victory introduces us to a Chicago area business heating up during the cold weather.

The sun pretty much set on outdoor dining months ago. It’s mid-pandemic, mid-winter, and windchills often are in the teens.

Yet Mr. Hibachi is hotter than ever.

“It just took off; phone call after phone call, email after email,” head chef Ricky Melendez said.

Melendez was in a much different place 10 months ago. His decade-long career as a head hibachi chef went up in smoke because of the pandemic.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” he said.

From his couch, a concept: why not bring hibachi to the customer safely, inside a garage?

“It’s the space and the airflow for the grill, for the smoke, for us since COVID,” Melendez said.

Hats, gloves, space heaters. Hungry customers are willing to bundle up for a bite.

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“We’re not going to Bulls games, we’re not going to the movies. Right? These are the things that we would normally do. Right? So this is great, and he’s providing a lot of value, and I hope he’s really successful at it,” Steven Shapiro said.

Finding deals helps. Most of the Mr. Hibachi equipment came from shuttered restaurants.

“A hundred bucks for each grill; and, boom, we came up with five grills,” Melendez said.

And soon, four full hibachi-on-the go teams.

His partners? The assistant and sushi chef also laid off from the previous restaurant.

“It feels good, because we are providing good service, and it feels good that they keep calling us back,” sushi chef Juan Melchor said.

“We’re doing something good, right?” Melendez said.

That must be an understatement. Business is sizzling so much, the team just opened a brick and mortar location in Elgin.

As for wintertime catering, they’re booked two months ahead now.

“Every weekend; Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” Melendez said.

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The Mr. Hibachi team says they all wear masks and gloves, and put hand sanitizer on all tables. Bookings are limited to 10 people.  

Lauren Victory