Two people who have never met or communicated until Sunday have collaborated on the biggest and most comprehensive list of Chicago restaurants which are offering carryout and delivery to continue business as dining rooms across Illinois remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dining at a Distance is a Chicago-born directory of restaurants that are serving food for off-site consumption. The site, which launched Monday, united two people who before talking over the weekend were independently working on their own lists.
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported that the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the state has risen to 288, with 128 new cases reported. As a way to reduce the risk of spread, Governor J.B. Pritzker has closed all dining rooms at restaurants and bars. To survive the two-week mandate, restaurants have turned to takeout and delivery. But not everyone knows about these offerings.
That’s where Dining at a Distance comes in, as the list has already grown to more than 1,050 Chicago restaurants, showing folks if they offer delivery, takeout, or curbside service. The effort’s been so well received that they’ve made robust directories for other cities, places like Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Berlin, Germany is also live. They’re looking to folks from those markets who would be willing to keep the directories updated.
Dining at Distance is in part from Jenn Galdes, a long-time public relations professional who’s worked with restaurants. On Saturday morning, before the state force restaurants to close their dining rooms, she contacted several of her old clients. Folks like Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Michael Roper (Hopleaf), Emmanuel Nony (Proxi, Sepia), Martial Noguier (Bistronomic), and Debbie Sharpe (Goddess & the Grocer) provided advice.
Galdes brainstormed, like others have, on ways to tell the public that despite the shutdown, that they can still eat food from their favorite restaurant. Places like Virtue in Hyde Park and S.K.Y. in Pilsen have started to offer carryout orders. They join other restaurants, big and small, across the city in trying to find new revenue streams.
She Tweeted out her idea, and TV host Elliott Bambrough (Chicago’s Best) introduced Galdes to Sean Lynch. Lynch and his wife recently returned to Chicago after 10 years in the Washington, D.C. area. Their keen supporters of the restaurant industry, and Lynch’s background with digital products made him an ideal partner, linking Galdes’s experiences in the sector. One of Lynch’s passions is to create digital resources that connect communities. His past work includes connecting 100,000 Jewish teenagers online. His wife, Marina Rostein, has worked with OneTable. When he first chatted with Galdes, he already had the site set up.
“My passion is solving problems,” Lynch said.
With Dining at Distance they’ve given Chicago one of the most complete resources in America. And they’re aware of the challenges. One is making sure the list is complete and goes is beyond normal spheres of influence. They wanted to make sure that all restaurants are represented, both in types of cuisine and geographically. It was fortuitous that a rep from Chowbus, a platform that offers delivery and pickup ordering from many Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, contacted Galdes and Lynch with the hope of being included. Local chambers have also reached out to help ensure better diversity.
“We are trying to make sure there’s broad representation because that’s what makes up our community,” Galdes said.
Another challenge Lynch and Galdes mentioned is the added competition that smaller restaurants that are already geared toward takeout and delivery are facing as more restaurants — even Michelin-starred ones — are entering into their turf to keep their kitchens open.
They managed to find a person to update their upcoming New York site, but are looking for people in other cities in North Carolina, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Eventually they’ll add a charity component and they also hope to bring in national companies — chains, distributors, and media — to help support the site for however long this outbreak lasts.
Those who are interested in working with updating their city’s site could contact Galdes and Lynch online.