As the public health crisis decimates the city’s restaurant industry, more and more members are sharing emotional stories. Kevin Boehm, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group, shared a poignant essay on Thursday in Esquire. The day after his mother died of pancreatic cancer, Boehm was forced to close his 20 restaurants and furlough 1,800 workers.
“There is no playbook for handling death, and as I soon learned, no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic,” Boehm writes while mourning Dee Boehm’s death.
Boehm expressed frustration with government officials who seem to ignore the needs of independent restaurants. His frustration is further demonstrated as the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program has run out of money. Meanwhile, the leaders of chain restaurants are well represented on the White House’s economic council of restaurants.
The impact is industry wide. Dennis Lee, a pizza chef at Paulie Gee’s in Logan Square, shared his own essay in Chicago. Lee, a normally jovial guy with a mischievous-style of humor, dove into several issues affecting restaurant workers. He writes about living paycheck to paycheck and missing his coworkers. He shares how he keeps in touch with them and how Paulie Gee’s is posting YouTube videos.
“But beyond the blur that is shelter-in-place (what day is it again?), I’m stubbornly optimistic, even though I know that this is going to be a longer haul than we hoped for,” Lee writes.
And in other news...
- Restaurant owners now have more time, until May 31, to pay the city’s restaurant tax. For the second time, the city’s comptroller’s office has pushed back the deadline. Local taxes such as parking, amusement, and hotel accommodation taxes are also delayed until the end of May, according to Crain’s.
- The second episode of Todos Ponen, a web series produced in conjunction with Logan Square Mexican restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojeria, is set for release on Saturday. The episodes aim to show an inside look into the hospitality industry. The first episode included chefs who owned restaurants like Ricky Ortiz (Antique Taco), Michael Simmons (Cafe Marie-Jeanne), and Jason Vincent (Giant). The upcoming episode will feature Mi Tocaya’s Diana Dávila hosting Carlos Gaytán (Tzuco), sommelier Belinda Chang, Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), Lamar Moore (Vegas Chef Prizefight winner), and Eater Chicago Senior Editor Ashok Selvam. A trailer is uploaded on YouTube.
- Two Michelin-starred West Loop restaurant Smyth is now offering to-go meals for the first time on ordering and reservation portal Tock. The “Smyth Bahn Mi Meal” includes the restaurant’s take on the Vietnamese-French sandwich (duck confit, chicken liver mousse, lemongrass, pickled vegetables), along with oysters on the half shell (lime dressing, green papaya), crispy pork rinds, and whipped rice pudding (jasmine, rhubarb). The meal is available for $34 per person.
- With live music events in Chicago canceled for the foreseeable future because of the pandemic, local concert venues are also subject to the same precarious financial position facing the city’s eating and drinking establishments. While some restaurants have transitioned into delivery and pickup operations, music venues can’t make that pivot. Even when the state’s shelter-in-place order is eventually lifted, customers may not feel safe in large group settings like concerts, and bands may not be prepared or willing to tour. Ownership of spots like Beat Kitchen in Roscoe Village, Thalia Hall in Pilsen, and Sleeping Village in Avondale have formed the Chicago Independent Venue League, according to Time Out Chicago. The coalition allows owners to support and assist one another during the shutdown.
- Fire-fighter owned suburban company Fire Department Coffee has agreed to change its logo as part of a lawsuit settlement with the city of Chicago, according to Crain’s. In January, the city sued the Rockford-based business for alleged trademark infringement, claiming that the company’s monogram logo was too similar to the Chicago Fire Department’s symbol, and the coffee company was capitalizing on the public’s positive perception of the department. The company is not required to pay fines or penalties in the settlement, and has already updated its website branding. In November 2019, local soccer team the Chicago Fire rebranded its crest — which also bore a striking resemblance to the Chicago Fire Department logo — and changed its name to Chicago Fire FC in trademark filings, the Tribune reported at the time. No related lawsuits have been reported.