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Restaurant Lobby Survey Puts Pressure on Federal Government for Relief

Plus, Chicago is getting a Cinnaholic

A partially-enclosed outdoor dining space with heaters
Outdoor tents and pods aren’t enough to save restaurants, owners say.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The National Restaurant Association continues to lobby the government for federal pandemic relief. Officials sent a letter to politicians over the weekend urging them to act, and they’ve also released results from a new state-by-state survey to further its cause.

The survey, administered from November 17 to 30 to 6,000 restaurant operators and 250 supply chain businesses, included responses from Illinois operators. Findings include 86 percent expect to see sales decrease even further, and 64 percent say total labor costs are higher than they were before the pandemic began in March. More than half of the state’s restaurant and bar owners say that without federal relief, their businesses will likely be closed in six months. That’s in line with other states like New York (54 percent) and California (43 percent). The association did not provide raw data from the survey, just an executive summary with highlights.

The survey’s respondents also report nearly 70 percent of Illinois restaurants are operating at 20 percent below normal staffing levels, and more than 60 percent owners expect more layoffs over the coming months. That reflects a larger trend, according to a new federal report that shows nationwide restaurant hiring hitting a wall, which could add up to sufficient pressure on legislators to provide a much-desired stimulus package.

The association’s letter to congressional leaders pleads for assistance. “Efforts in Washington to find the ‘perfect’ solution are laudable, but the lack of progress in the meantime has led too many operators to give up on the government and close down for good,” it reads. “Since our last update to you, less than three months ago, an additional 10,000 restaurants have closed nationwide.”

Operators are waiting. Big Onion Hospitality CEO Erik Baylis tells the the Tribune that “The American dream has been ripped from us.”

Baylis said that while he was grateful for a $148,100 Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loan, it was ultimately a Band-Aid that helped preserve 10 jobs for a few weeks. Baylis has permanently closed Brunch in River North, temporarily shuttered five of the company’s businesses, including two Fatpour Tap Works locations, and laid off more than 500 employees; Hopsmith Tavern remains open for outdoor service at Rush and Division.

— Despite the immense challenges the pandemic poses to the hospitality industry, food and beverage startups like gluten-free baking mix company Simple Mills and meal subscription service Tovala have seen more than $16 billion — up from about $6.3 billion — in capital investments this year, according to Crain’s. Food incubator the Hatchery in East Garfield Park has also seen an increase in enrollment for its monthly class on how to start a food business, CEO Natalie Shmulik told reporters.

Cinnaholic, a chain with a suburban Schaumburg location, is poised to open its first in Chicago at 1295 W. Milwaukee Avenue. The chain’s website says it’s due for a fall opening.

A storefront that says Cinnaholic.
Cinnaholic could open soon.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

— Goose Island Brewing has an Easter Egg for Bourbon County Brand Stout lovers. For this year’s vintage, they’re offering bottles from single-origin bourbon barrels (normally the beer is from a blend). The Tribune has details on this Chicago-only gimmick that’s hiding in plain sight. Fans will see if their bottle is made from one of Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, or Wild Turkey by checking the bottle label to see if there’s the right two letters stamped. It’s a way to boost excitement on the OG beer opposed to the variants which in recent years have stolen the limelight.

Hopsmith Tavern

15 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60610 (312) 600-9816