Late on Tuesday, the news began circulating to restaurant owners across the country: President Donald Trump announced he was halting negotiations on a stimulus bill that had the potential to delivery crucial aid to an industry besieged by the effects of the novel coronavirus. A wave of anger swept through restaurant owners who have been begging the government for help.
That anger has manifested locally at West Town Bakery where starting on Thursday they began selling smash cakes. These are small cakes for children too young to hold a utensil. They’re placed in front of a child and adults wait to watch the kid dig in with their fists and create a mess, they’re a fixture for trendy children’s birthday parties.
The cakes at West Town are for adults and feature photos of either Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. The Pence cake features a fly on his head and swollen eye, inspired by Wednesday’s vice presidential debate. This could also be an antidote to the popular Trump refrain of “but what about Chicago?” a problematic phrase that feigns concern about gun violence.
“Without a government stimulus, small- and mid-sized businesses are done,” says Scott Weiner, co-founder of the bakery’s parent company, Fifty/50 Restaurant Group. “All that’s going to be left are the big companies, the Amazons, they’re going have a bigger footprint, the Travis Kalanick cloud kitchens, they’re going to take over more and more of your beloved restaurants.”
The 4-inch round cakes are $15 and proceeds will go to the ACLU to help register voters. Weiner is not alone is his frustration as restaurant owners from Uptown to Bronzeville vented about Trump’s actions.
“It’s a tough blow, and I’m angry about it,” says Jason Hammel, co-owner of Logan Square’s Lula Cafe, modern Indian spot Superkhana International, and Marisol inside the Museum of Contemporary Art. “At the same time, we’re not going to let even one very powerful individual voice get in the way of us speaking together collectively and trying to get aid both for our struggling industry and for the workers all over the country in many industries who have been furloughed and laid off.”
Since March, Hammel has been working with the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), a legislative advocacy group for small, indie restaurants, to try and pass the RESTAURANTS Act, a program that incorporated $120 billion in grants for restaurants, bars, and food trucks included in the updated HEROES Act. The House passed the bill in late September with 200 bipartisan co-sponsors, but stalled in the senate. Hammel says he remains committed to the cause and will continue calling his senators and voicing his opinion: that federal action is desperately needed to keep businesses alive, people employed, and neighborhoods vital.
Maya-Camille Broussard, the Chicago baker behind Justice of the Pies, says that a change in leadership is the only way to insure that struggling restaurants get more federal financial support they need to survive. “We need a new president — that’s obvious,” Broussard says. “I think this tactic of halting talks for a new stimulus bill is almost a bullying tactic, as if to say, ‘No money unless you elect me’... it’s completely selfish and self-serving.”
Though she’s heard some speculate that restaurants could get significant boost from takeout sales during the winter months, Broussard says that it’s impossible to forecast how customers will behave once the snow starts falling — whichis why it’s important for restaurants to have a financial safety net. “But Donald Trump is saying, there’s no net unless you bring me back into office — ‘if you die, you die,’” she says.
Andy Kalish, the co-owner of vegan restaurant Kal’ish and vegan Jewish deli Sam & Gertie’s in Uptown says that unless the government is willing to fund restaurants for the next 12 to 24 months, it doesn’t make sense to remain open.
“If I am capable of making good decisions and evolving to what it is that our consumer wants, if I can keep up with that demand, create products that are compelling enough that people are willing to go outdoors and be amongst other people, than let me win,” he says. “If I’m not capable of that, I don’t know that the government needs to keep me afloat. Let the other guy, or the other girl, have at it.”
- Oh, baby (cakes)! See the ‘smash’ trend taking 1-year-old parties by storm [Today]
- Trump Is Holding the New Stimulus Bill Hostage, and Restaurant Workers Will Suffer for It [Eater]
- What the New Iteration of the HEROES Act Would Mean for Restaurants [Eater]
- $2.2 trillion COVID relief bill includes $120 billion for restaurants [Nation’s Restaurant News]
- If the Stimulus Package Fails Independent Restaurants, It Fails America [Eater]
- Joe Biden Nets Support From 10 Chicago Restaurants in Open Letter Critiquing Trump [Eater Chicago]
- Trump’s Restaurant Industry Conference Call Only Included Major Chains [Eater]