Chicago Restaurant’s New Normal – Day 8

(Sunday Brunch, with an assist from Aya Pastry’s frozen biscuit dough)

Now a full week into the new normal, and we’re still a long way off from seeing a return to the good ol’ days of talking to a server, seeing a cook in a kitchen and enjoying a meal just minutes after it was cooked. With a mandatory Stay-at-Home/Shelter-in-Place until April 7, I can’t see how we get back to that fond memory for at least several weeks. I just saw the news this morning of the first high-profile closure of a restaurant in L.A., as Lucques announced after 21 years, rather than close on May 6 as previously planned, the Covid-19 situation forced their hand.

Chicago restaurant owners are doing their best in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles, because a lot more of us are cooking at home now (certainly more than I ever have – see my brunch pic above). Even for people like me, who have been supporting places by ordering delivery and takeout, we now have adult children living with us, and feeding four people everyday by ordering in for every meal isn’t sustainable, since some of us are seeing our hours cut and our side hustles drying up. We ordered dinner in a few nights ago from a great local place nearby, but including the delivery, 20% tip and service charge, it was $142. That’s not possible everyday. Remember that tour business I started a couple of years ago? Pizza City USA Tours is essentially closed until further notice, even though most local pizzerias still deliver and offer takeout, a tour business that relies on clustering guests together in a bus and then bringing guests inside a business is out of luck. The only possible way to continue is if people buy gift certificates for a future tour. My out-of-town media training consulting with restaurants is obviously on hold, and even if I get back to my two-stories-per-week routine at ABC 7, the thought of going out to meet with restaurateurs, being in close proximity, shooting (clipping mics on people) dragging my equipment around and exposing myself to a lot more people and surfaces just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. These sorts of choices are rippling throughout the community, since there are so many links in the chain that rely on each other to succeed. The farmers who rely on wholesalers and restaurants; the staffs who rely on getting hours; the building owners (still paying mortgages) relying on rent-paying tenants; finally, the customers, relying on steady paychecks, in order to feed (literally) their habit and love of eating out frequently. It’s a messed-up cycle and if it doesn’t get fixed soon, we’re going to see more high-profile closures.

My colleague Mike Gebert correctly articulates the problem (Fooditor, point #3 “Wrong Answer”) with Mayor Lightfoot’s recent plan to offer small businesses low interest loans to get them through this period. Why in the world would these struggling businesses take on even more loans at this point? What they need is a bailout, not another loan commitment they can’t possibly repay. One Off Hospitality realizes how dire it is for the industry workers who’ve been laid off, so starting tomorrow, they’re going to convert Big Star into a community kitchen, with the help of the Lee Initiative, ready to feed anyone who needs a meal – they plan on serving 250 dinners.

Here are a few more notices that have come across my desk recently. I’ve listed a few helpful references at the end. Stay safe, be kind, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. And STAY AT HOME.

Leña Brava fired up the wood hearth and have meals that feed 2 – 4 people, available Tues – Sun. at 4 p.m.

Munno, a pizza/pasta restaurant in Uptown, is open Wed. – Sun. and has a Sunday Dinner that feeds four.

Salerno’s, known for its tavern-style pizzas, will knock $5 off orders of $50 or more.

Naansense has regular menu at 171 N. Wells for pickup/delivery but you can pickup/delivery family meals 2:30 – 5 p.m. from their 113 S. Clinton St. location too. Order online by 10 p.m. the night before.

Tock To Go allows ordering for more than 20 restaurants in town. Alinea sold out of its Beef Wellington/Mashed Potato/Creme Brûlée menu in a few hours (I’m on waiting list, but not holding breath).

A coalition of larger chain restaurants are asking Americans tomorrow, March 24th, to join “TheGreatAmericanTakeout and eat at least one meal by delivery or take-out.

 

WAYS TO HELP

Call your state reps, and demand they support independent restaurants. #toosmalltofail

Tons of local restaurants are running GoFundMes or fundraisers for their staffs, including Sepia and Boka Group.

Dining At a Distance (constantly updated list of local restaurants with delivery, carryout)

Buy a Dining Bond – just like a savings bond. Essentially a gift certificate that is sold at 25% less than face value, but redeemable for face value when dining at the restaurant. (for example, a $100 bond is purchased for $75, but is worth $100 when you dine at the restaurant later)

Chicago Hospitality United is donating 100% of proceeds from merch sales to hourly workers.

 

RESOURCES

Bartenders Assistance & Relief – don’t need to be a member to apply for help, but must prove you’re a bartender who has been affected

Block Club has a link to help you get unemployment benefits, rent relief, etc. if you’re out of work as a result of Covid-19.

Insurance Coverage for COVID-19 Injuries & Losses (courtesy Taft Law)

Commercial Real Estate Legal Issues Related to COVID-19 (courtesy Taft Law)

Illinois Restaurant Assoc. – latest updates for the industry – SIGN THIS PETITION for the “Keeping Workers Paid and Employed Act”

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