One of Chicago’s most successful restaurant groups is under fire from workers who claim it hasn’t properly distributed donations meant for employees. Workers furloughed by One Off Hospitality Group (Publican, Big Star, Blackbird) are angry over money collected in a GoFundMe campaign to buy grocery store gift cards which were given to workers who were cut last month. Though the state’s stay-at-home order kept customers out of dine-in restaurants to combat the novel coronavirus, One Off didn’t immediately cease operations at all restaurants and continued delivery and carryout until March 27.
One Off partner and chef Paul Kahan told Eater Chicago they closed due to safety concerns and didn’t want to further the spread of the disease. Many workers were furloughed on March 20, according to company emails sent to Eater Chicago. The next day, One Off, like many restaurants across the country, established a GoFundMe to collect money for those former workers. So far the fund’s generated more than $92,000 in donations.
Block Club Chicago reports that several workers are mad that One Off used $80,000 from the fund to buy gift cards from Mariano’s. The grocery store is not mentioned in the online fundraiser description. That takes away the choice of using the money on other expenses including rent and bills. Workers were also angry over the prospect of losing health care coverage. A One Off spokesperson says there hasn’t be a disruption. Hourly workers are covered through May, but One Off says it would revisit the policy as the government issues its own policy to combat COVID-19. A spokesperson tells Block Club they’ve spent an extra $180,000 on employee health insurance.
Dine-in restaurants and bars have been closed since March 16 when Gov. Pritzker initially announced a two-week shutter. The governor has since issued a stay-at-home-order that’s extended the closures until the end of April, though there’s speculation that it will go through May.
Businesses face many concerns with distributing funds to worker during the public health crisis. One Off gave workers a survey to try to measure their concerns. Determining which workers need the money the most, is the most pressing challenge. There’s also concerns with the GoFundMe platform. There was the troublesome partnership with Yelp that created funds without the consent of owners. There’s also problems withdrawing money from GoFundMe. Despite the challenges, the ease of use makes it the most popular platform.
Kahan says when the outbreak subsides, it will pose a challenge for the industry as most restaurants will have to treat the return like opening a restaurant for the first time, starting with dinner and gradually adding lunch, for example.
And in other news...
- Chicago’s roundup of “the 50 Most Powerful Women in Chicago” includes bartender and restaurateur Julia Momose (Kumiko), Top Chef champion and restaurant owner Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), and industry-affiliated design luminaries Karen Herold of Studio K, and Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. “To see this in the midst of being shrouded in a cloud of powerlessness is a strange feeling,” Momose writes in an Instagram post. “To share a place on a list with leaders in Chicago who have the power to make the changes for which I am fighting, is staggering.” Momose has advocated since March for Illinois to allow bars like hers to sell cocktails to go during the pandemic shutdown.
- Workers at a McDonald’s franchise at 180 W. Adams Street in the Loop filed a federal complaint with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration Tuesday alleging that store management is not sufficiently protecting employees from COVID-19 and did not alert all employees that a coworker tested positive for the virus, Crain’s reported. Fast-food workers coalition Fight for 15 and the Service Employees International Union say that hundreds of workers plan to walk off the job Wednesday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions. The sick worker hasn’t been in the restaurant since March 17, according to a statement from franchise operator Rod Lubeznik. He confirms the worker tested positive for COVID-19 and that the restaurant takes regular safety precautions including conducting employed temperature checks at the beginning of each shift.
- Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, co-owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, share their reasoning behind closing their restaurant in Chicago. HBFC closed in late March in Avondale despite heavy delivery and pickup orders. While a number of safety concerns contributed to their call, the two ultimately pointed to the “nightmare” of navigating the federal Paycheck Protection Program. A lack of clarity on the program has led to contradictory advice from banks, Kulp says, and raises fears that small procedural errors will cause problems with loan forgiveness.
- Logan Square multi-brewery hub and taproom Pilot Project is now taking pre-orders for its submission to international beer collaboration All Together, led by Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company. The brewery’s “All Together IPA” will be released Tuesday, April 21 for pickup only. All Together’s goal is to help brewers make the beer at the lowest possible cost, while raising funds for furloughed hospitality workers and the brewing industry during the pandemic. Draft beer sales have been abysmal with bars and taprooms closed. There’s worry that several breweries won’t reopen, though some of the bigger names, like Three Floyd’s Brewing in Munster, Indiana, have seen bottle and cans sales soar during the pandemic. But not all breweries have cans or bottles. Other participating Chicago-area breweries include Pilsen’s Alulu Brewery and Pub and suburban Mikerphone Brewing in Elk Grove Village.
- A fire at Blommer Chocolate Factory in the West Loop Tuesday morning was promptly extinguished and no one was injured, according to Block Club Chicago. The factory at 600 W. Kinzie Street saw two fires in 2017, and all employees were safe and accounted for in both instances.