Imperial Lamian, whose arrival more than four years ago brought an exciting and upscale Chinese restaurant to Downtown Chicago, has closed. Management posted a farewell post on Sunday on Facebook, citing “challenges we faced as a result of the pandemic this year.” While Chicago says goodbye to some of the city’s best xiao long bao, a sibling restaurant — Phat Phat — in suburban Schaumburg will remain open.
Many Chinese restaurants are thriving thanks to takeout and delivery. Chowbus, the third-party delivery company the specializes in deliveries from Chicago’s Chinatown, has reported increased business during the pandemic. A delivery driver for Chowbus told Eater Chicago that despite xenophobic attitudes connected to the novel coronavirus, that customers were tipping well for deliveries.
However, dine-in business continued to struggle due to racist attitudes. The state suspended indoor dining on October 30, and that hurt places like Imperial Lamian even more. These restaurants have fancy dining rooms in neighborhoods where rent is expensive. The Tribune, which first reported the story, notes Imperial Lamian was known for roast duck and soup dumplings. The specialties of the house don’t translate as well for carryout or delivery.
The demise of tourism during the pandemic was another factor. Many times, visitors would stumble upon the restaurant after walking around downtown. It was also one of the only sit-down Chinese restaurants downtown. Back in 2016, co-owner Vincent Lawrence told Eater Chicago how downtown landlords would question if a Chinese restaurant belonged in Downtown Chicago. They asked, tearing a page out of the casual racists’ playbook, if certain aromas would repel customers.
Imperial Lamian came from an Indonesian chain, opened in February 2016. The restaurant also catered to vegetarians and vegans. Vegan spring rolls, as the Tribune notes, were another specialty. The restaurant also developed a vegetarian version of fish sauce, a vital component in dishes that packs a punch of flavor. Without a substitute, vegetarian dishes often taste limp. But the chefs at Lamian found a way around that, and that type of creativity — including those rainbow-colored dishes — will be missed.
As management concludes in its closing annoucement: “Our service industry has been hit HARD, and your favorite restaurants will only survive with your continued support.”