Garrett Popcorn, the Chicago-based chain known nationwide for its caramel and cheddar mix, is now selling products at grocery store shelves in the Chicago area for the first time in the brand’s 71-year run, according to a news release. The move is a significant pandemic pivot for the company, originally founded in 1949, that’s made a name for itself with immersive shopping experiences that allow patrons to watch kitchen activities.
There is a catch: the company’s top selling cheddar-caramel combo won’t be available. Garrett is floating trial balloons with new flavors: S’mores, Simply Strawberry, Simply Cocoa, and Simply Matcha. They’ll sell them at chains including Binny’s Beverage Depot, Big Apple Finer Foods in Lincoln Park, and Potash Markets downtown, as well as suburban Sunset Foods and Pete’s Fresh Market. The popcorn at the stores is only available in resealable bags, not as the gift tins many Chicagoans bring to out-of-town friends and family. The company is also featuring special holiday bundles and “stocking stuffers” that does include the combo formerly known as Chicago Mix.
The flagship location at 625 S. Michigan Avenue remains open as one of three Garrett’s downtown locations are still available for pickup and third-party delivery, prominent locations including State and Randolph, Michigan and Randolph, Water Tower Place, Ogilvie Transportation Center, and Navy Pier are temporarily closed. The continued absence of downtown workers and tourists due to the pandemic has caused months of tumult for hotels, restaurants, and other food businesses in the area. The decline of the air travel industry has also hurt sales at O’Hare International Airports, and no fans at professional sports means no sales at United Center, Wrigley Field, and Guaranteed Rate Field. Mall locations in suburban Detroit and Atlanta also so closed.
So, a presence in grocery store — which aren’t as tightly regulated as malls or restaurants, a place would-be customers are certain to visit — could help compensate for lost revenue.
“Pivot” could arguably be Merriam Webster’s word of the year, as restaurants and food companies race to stay solvent in the midst of fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions. Locally, notable restaurants including West Loop spot Monteverde, helmed by chef Sarah Grueneberg, and Logan Square’s Dasies have introduced retail markets featuring sauces, condiments, pastas, cheese, preserves, and more. Other pandemic-era approaches include unique virtual experiences, like chef Zoe Schor (Split-Rail, Dorothy) and partner Whitney LaMora’s Off the Table dining series complete with meal kits, detailed instruction, and class discussions.
Chicago’s winter weather means the season is usually a difficult time for local restaurants, and a second wave of the virus in the city has prompted less pivot-inclined operators to put their businesses to bed for the winter. Those that remain open are counting on residents to get on board with their particular pivot and invest in local businesses.
In other news...
— Hip-hop artist DJ Khaled plans to open an express version of his Miami-based soul food chain the Licking in Calumet Heights, according to Block Club Chicago. Khaled opened the first Chicago location to great fanfare in the Austin neighborhood last year.
— Two Chicago spots made Esquire’s esteemed best new restaurants list, which features 21 establishments across the country. The magazine selected Bridgeport’s Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream and West Town’s Porto for this year’s accolades. Porto is temporarily closed, while Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream remains open for takeout.
— Thirteen prominent restaurants across the country were selected to house a collection of heated tents, or “yurt villages,” according to Resy. Unfortunately, the Chicago inclusion — Boka group’s Swift & Sons — has shut down outdoor dining in response to the city’s second wave of the pandemic.
— Controversy over Headquarters Beercade’s proposed Pilsen location is headed to court as neighbors and officials continue to push back against the plan, according to Block Club. Neighbors are concerned over noise, traffic, parking shortages, and public intoxication, but the Illinois Liquor License Commission granted owners a conditional liquor license last month. The city plans to fight the allowance by filing an appeal with the Cook County Circuit Court in December. The arcade bar has a location in River North.
— Former hotel employees and hospitality workers’ union Unite Local 1 rallied on Friday at Federal Plaza calling for protections for workers displaced by the pandemic, the Sun-Times reports. Organizers want employers to guarantee that former workers will be reinstated, along with pay raises and benefits, when the economy recovers. The union is also raising funds to help these workers keep their health insurance, and cover food, rent, and utility costs.