Over the weekend, Chicago restaurant owners expressed anger over an inability to secure funds through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP). The federal government announced that it had run out of the $349 billion designed to provide small businesses with loans to pay workers in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Frustrations were increased by news that several national chains, including Shake Shack, Potbelly Sandwiches, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House secured loans in the range of $10 million to $20 million.
A group of restaurant owners calling themselves Chicago Hospitality Coalition — whose founders are prominent chefs Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp (Honey Butter Fried Chicken), Rick Bayless (Frontera), Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group), plus Ben Lustbader and Jason Vincent (Giant, Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar, City Mouse) — want several changes. Successful applicants have an eight-week window to spend the loan. The coalition wants that period extended to 12 weeks. The group also wants the program’s end date of June 30 to be extended to when dine-in restaurants will actually open. The coalition is encouraging restaurants owners to send letters to elected officials to help apply pressure for their asks.
The Illinois Restaurant Association also wants the government to “fix the program.” President and CEO Sam Toia, in a video distributed to media, asked the government to add an $250 billion of funding and more flexibility in how businesses could spend loan money.
Several restaurant owners, some in the coalition, made social media posts over the weekend wondering what constituted a small business if larger companies like Shake Shack received funds. Shake Shack, paying attention to that public outcry, on Sunday night announced it would return the $10 million loan it secured from PPP. The company had found other means of funding.
And in other news...
- Chicago’s $100 million small business loan fund has, thus far, distributed $4.7 million to 124 applicants, according to Crain’s. Another 300 loans are now moving through the underwriting process, Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection tells reporters in a statement, but on April 9, only ten loans had been approved. Eligible businesses must have had a 25-percent drop in revenue due to pandemic-related closures and employ fewer than 50 people. Bronzeville coffee shop Sip & Savor and Kenwood catering company Twisted Eggroll are among the first wave of loan recipients.
- Chef Iliana Regan, owner of Michelin-starred Elizabeth in Lincoln Square, offers readers a glimpse of her life during the pandemic in an essay for Bustle. In vivid detail, Regan describes retreating to her in-laws property in “the middle of nowhere” Indiana with her wife, Anna Hamlin, who is in a high-risk group for contracting the virus. There, she lives by a daily rhythm of homesteading. This includes feeding her sourdough starter, planning and executing meals, catching and cooking bullfrogs. All the while, she worries over the fate of her restaurant. Regan also shares her anxieties over getting pregnant during the stay-at-home order as health care providers have imposed restrictions. An insemination attempt wasn’t successful: “Everything has become so surreal; any semblance of control or power over my life has vanished. The universe is now in charge.”
- Emilia Pontarelli, the reigning nonna of Tony’s Italian Deli & Subs in Edison Park, died on April 10 at 93, according to the Sun-Times. A native of Rocchetta a Volturno, Italy, Pontarelli survived the Nazi occupation and bombing of her hometown during World War II. In 1967, she and husband Vincenzo, along with their three children, immigrated to Chicago. Son Tony went on to found the deli, which was later purchased by his sister Maria and her husband. Pontarelli began helping out at the store in the 1980s, and could often be found stationed behind the cash register. The deli is a cornerstone in the Northwest Side Italian-American community. It opened in 1978.
- The last days of iconic German restaurant and beer hall Chicago Brauhaus, a Lincoln Square fixture for more than five decades before it closed in December, will be immortalized in a new documentary, Gemütlichkeit: A German-American Fairytale. The film will premiere April 30 in a one-time-only livestream on its website and Facebook. Stay tuned for more details on the film and its release.
- A new vegan restaurant, Kale My Name, opened Friday at 3300 W. Montrose Avenue in Albany Park, according to Block Club Chicago. The spot offers a long menu of entirely vegan dishes, including jackfruit tacos, Buffalo tofu wraps, Beyond Burgers, and desserts. The restaurant is offering food for takeout and delivery for the time being, but ownership hopes to add a full-service bar when dine-in service commences.