After seeing the state halt on-premise service at restaurants, a Chicago bar owner wants to make sure holiday traditions aren’t wiped out. Shawn Podgurski co-owns Dmen Tap, a bar near the corner of California and Belmont avenues in Avondale that serves doner kebobs and craft beer. The business started as the Donerman food truck before the restaurant opened in 2017.
The bar has been open for limited service and carryout orders during the pandemic. The Donerman truck has also been around town, at Dovetail and Begyle breweries in Ravenswood, and Leavitt Street Inn & Tavern in Bucktown. The winter is a special time for Dmen, as that’s when the bar crew prepares for Christkindlmarket, the annual holiday festival that draws thousands to Daley Plaza. Donerman has been a food vendor at the fest for the last six years. Podgurski has always been a fan of the event and it’s a big source of revenue. It helps Pogdurski’s small business during a traditionally slow time for Chicago’s restaurants.
But mass gatherings can help spread the novel coronavirus, and thus organizers of Christkindlmarket have moved the event online, making 2020 a virtual get together. Though Podgurski understands the safety risk, it’s not what he wanted to hear.
“I’m a big tradition person, when we got the news it wasn’t happening, I just started to get manicky and started thinking what we could do to take its place,” Podgurski says.
Beyond the financial impact, the pandemic also has an effect on mental health. Podgurski would know: before opening a restaurant he worked as a hospital social worker. He says he’s been employing the same calming techniques that helped him through his past career over the last few months while his restaurant tries to survive. To say it’s been stressful for members in the industry would be an understatement.
But Podgurski believes people need a safe release, something to look forward to after the pandemic has taken so much. That’s why starting on Black Friday, November 27 and through Christmas Eve, Dmen will dock its food truck right in front of the bar, 2849 W. Belmont Avenue. With the blessing of the organizers of the event, Dmen will host a Christmas Market Pop Up. It’s not officially affiliated with Christkindlmarket, though ownership has lent Dmen its blessing to hold the event. No one will be permitted inside to eat or drink, but customers can buy hot cocoa, cider, schnitzel sandwiches, pretzels, and sausages from the truck. Podgurski is also excited that he’s secured a cheese wheel so he can serve raclette, a popular and gooey Christkindlmarket item. Customers will also be able to purchase hot mulled wines to-go at the bar.
Podgurski hopes to bring a little bit of the market to the North Side. Through a special arrangement, they’ll also sell vintage Christkindlmarket mugs. Podgurski says they’ve placed an order through Christkindlmarket’s organizers and he isn’t sure what they will send. Fans of the market collect these mugs and make it a point of visiting Downtown Chicago every year to acquire this year’s design.
Dmen has a back patio, and while Podgurski would love to sell customer warm wine out of his truck for them to sip in the back, he’s unsure of city regulations during the pandemic. It’s a good example of the confusion restaurant and bar owners are experiencing as the government gives them little notice before enacting new guidelines.
“We have to have something to get us through 2020, we have to cling a little bit to our past traditions; it’s important,” Podgurski says.
Podgurski also says they’ll set up a holiday-decorated picture frame in front so folks can pose and take their photos for Instagram. The Donerman food truck isn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but this independent restaurant owner is doing what he can to spread a little joy and keep his business alive.
Dmen Tap’s Christmas Market Pop-Up, from November 27 through December 23 in front of Dmen Tap, 2849 W. Belmont Avenue.