Two months ago, financial concerns brought on by the pandemic forced the 79-year-old owner of Harold’s Chicken Shack No. 55 to sell his iconic fried chicken from a North Side ghost kitchen. Percy Billings is working as a one-man operation inside a kitchen shared with Wendy’s and Fatburger in River West. Billings closed his location in July on 87th Street after, as the Tribune reported, the landlord increased rent by 40 percent.
The Harold’s at 8653 S. State Street (inside the Shell Gas Station) is regarded as one of the city’s best among the many locations across the city. The restaurants have different ownerships and wildly vary. Billings had no plans to reopen, but bills have mounted forcing him back in the kitchen, he tells the Tribune. The restaurant is back open for pickup, which skips the commission fees. Meanwhile, the ghost kitchen offers pickup at 850 W. Superior Street or delivery via DoorDash.
The Tribune encourages customers to order direct from the 87th Street location and notes the fees associated with third-party delivery companies which can charge restaurants as much as 30 percent in commissions. The city recently placed a 15 percent cap on those fees. DoorDash responded with a $1.50 “Chicago Fee” to recoup losses from the cap. That timing comes as the owners of DoorDash just had their initial public offering. They’re now billionaires.
Billings has brought credibility to Harold’s brand. one that has been repped by Chance the Rapper and at ComplexCon. It’s tough to hear Billings grinding away by himself while Harold’s downtown is selling merchandise and shipping gallon jugs of mild sauce across the country for $42. The reaction to Louisa Chu’s piece in the Trib has been sympathetic. Alinea Group’s Nick Kokonas tweeted that he would love to bring Harold’s No. 55 to his Tock ordering platform (which charges restaurants 3 percent commissions) where they “will sell the heck out of that awesome chicken.”
- Harold’s Chicken Shack on 87th at Dan Ryan closed permanently after rent raised over 40% [Tribune]
- 79-year-old Harold’s Chicken Shack owner cooking alone at ghost kitchen: ‘It’s so bad I can barely pay rent’ [Tribune]
- Larry Legend’s Alternate Harold’s Ranking [Chicago]
- DoorDash’s Founders Are Billionaires Now [Eater San Francisco]
And in other news...
— Eris Brewery and Cider House in Irving Park has is teaming up with Jeppson’s Malort. Apfel Ort is a dry cider aged for 12 months in malort barrels. The company describes the cider as “feisty and ready for action.” Preorders have started with the pickup-only release starting on December 21.
— After a delay, the yurts have finally arrived in Fulton Market in front of Swift & Sons. Part of a collaboration with American Express and Resy, customers can now reserved heated yurts (Swiss-style tents) that are docked in front of Boka Restaurant Group’s Fulton Market steakhouse. This is a nationwide effort for AMEX card members that was launched in October, but the turmoil from the state’s indoor dining ban forced a delay in Chicago. Reservations are live, and already booked for parties of two for the first day, December 18. The restaurant also has other outdoor options.
— A Chicago non profit, Quiet Pterodactyl, is teaming up with sponsors including Dark Matter Coffee, Revolution Brewing, and CH Distillery on music compilation to benefit 25 independent music venues that have been closed due to the pandemic. The record is called SituationChicago is available until December 31. It’s available digitally or in vinyl. Artists include Poi Dog Pondering, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and White Mystery. Venues include Schubas, Cafe Mustache, Liar’s Club, Uncommon Ground, and Reggie’s Rock Club. Dark Matter is also selling SituationChicago limited-edition cold brew.