As Chicagoans prepare for a Thanksgiving unlike any other with limited travel, smaller gatherings, takeout meals, and 2020’s ever-present overlord — Zoom. The novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic instability have displaced many Chicagoans, leaving them (and their families) lacking basic resources. In response, a number of local chefs and restaurant owners are turning their attention to neighbors in need.
These include Community Canteen, a newish endeavor led by Ed Marszewski (Kimski, Maria’s, Marz Brewing) that serves hungry people with a pay-what-you-can business model. Canteen patrons can choose from a selection of takeout meals (prepared by the teams at Kimski and Mom’s) for free, or donate funds that will go toward future meals — the team plans to give away at least 2,000 meals per week during the winter months. More than 50 area chefs have gotten in on the project, including Won Kim (Kimski), Kelly Ijichi and Randy Howry (Mom’s), Beverly Kim of Michelin-starred Parachute, and the team behind Avondale beer bar DMen Tap.
Kimski chef Won Kim has his hands in other charity operations, too: his Community Soup collaboration features soups from acclaimed chefs like Top Chef champion Joe Flamm (lentil soup with fennel sausage) and Noah Sandoval of two Michelin-starred Oriole (“Big Ass Pot of Delicious Chili”). All proceeds from soup sales will go to Englewood Montessori School.
Other good actors include Antique Taco co-owners Rick and Ashley Ortiz, who will give away free meals to anyone in need on Thanksgiving from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. (or while supplies last) at their Bridgeport location. They teamed up with local urban farming nonprofit Urban Growers Collective.
West Town charity Northwestern Settlement, which usually holds an in-person holiday meal for 400, gave away around 2,800 Thanksgiving dinners last weekend. Suburban company Catering by Michaels supplied the meals and prepared 2,450 pounds of turkey, 1,400 pounds of potatoes and 87.5 gallons of handmade cranberry sauce. The event was powered by a catering credit, according to a spokesperson for Northwestern.
Staying in West Town, TaKorea Cocina owner Robert Magiet also plans to give away hundreds of Thanksgiving meals on Wednesday, according to Block Club Chicago. Motivated by his work with neighborhood mutual aid project the Love Fridge, Magiet — with the help of ownership of nearby restaurants Milk and Honey Cafe, Boefuhaus, Joey G’s Mac N Cheese, and Fatso’s Last Stand (and a small army of volunteers) — put together classic holiday packages featuring turkey, smoked ham, stuffing, gravy, salad, mashed potatoes, and much more. Magiet is also accepting donations online.
The pandemic continues to wreak a special kind of havoc on the hospitality industry, leading some charity operations to aim their efforts toward feeding restaurant and bar workers. Seafood boil mini-chain Lowcountry on Friday will feature up to 100 combos with shrimp, snow crab, corn, potatoes, and cornbread for industry employees with an ID and pay stub at its Lakeview location, management writes on Facebook.
While many flocked to charity initiatives and meal programs in the early months of the pandemic, donations have significantly dropped as fatigue sets in — but there are still plenty of Chicagoans in need on Thanksgiving and beyond. For ideas on how to get involved, check out Eater Chicago’s How to Help guide.
In other news...
— The City Council during its Tuesday meeting, introduced a few items to help the restaurant and bar industry. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed to further delay business and vehicle license expiration dates until July 15. The mayor has also proposed bringing back street dining next year. This summer various neighborhoods closed off roads to vehicular traffic to allow restaurants to set up tables and seats.
— Chicago dive bar fans are mourning the death of Phyllis Jaskot, the owner of Phyllis Musical Inn in Wicker Park. Jaskot died at age 93 and Dave Hoekstra wrote a tribute to her. The bar plans to continue operations when it’s safer.
— A day after the city of Chicago capped what third-party delivery services charge restaurants at 15 percent, DoorDash announced 100 winners of its $5,000 “winterization” grants, designed to offer some relief to restaurant owners struggling through the winter, according to a rep. The grants are part of the company’s $2 million nationwide program. Recipients can use funds for service and safety efforts like outdoor heating equipment, bulk blanket orders, and materials to make outdoor dining setups more secure. Winners include chef Erick Williams of Virtue in Hyde Park, Kharim Rincon of Rica Arepa Venezuelan Cafe in Hermosa, and Mary Aregoni of Saigon Sisters in West Loop.