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Summer Festival Cancellations Create More Chaos for Chicago Bars and Restaurants

Plus, a beloved Rogers Park restaurant owner dies from COVID-19 at 53, and more intel

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Crowds of people stand beside and under white tents at Millennium Park.
The fate of summer food festivals like Chicago Gourmet is still unclear.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Summer in Chicago is a vital time for the city’s hospitality industry, but Illinois’s twice-extended shelter-in-place order has many concerned on how COVID-19 will impact the city’s robust festival season. The summer months bring in significant funds for local food and beverage establishments. Tuesday, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events officials announced that some of the city’s biggest summer festivals are canceled for 2020, adding to a growing list of canceled or postponed neighborhood celebrations including Andersonville’s Midsommarfest, Do Division Street Fest, and Chicago Brewing District’s Dancing in the Streets.

Some establishments are already pivoting away from the festival circuit: North Center’s modern Irish spot Mrs. Murphy & Sons is using social media to highlight its six-time Ribfest Champion ribs available the half or full slab, even though Ribfest Chicago is canceled.

All these cancellations have a significant effect on income for food and drink vendors. Chicago’s Dog House owner Aaron Wolfson, whose Lincoln Park business is booked at numerous festivals running from the end of May through August, said he’s concerned but is trying to remain optimistic. “We can clearly understand that the patrons come first when it comes to stuff like this,” he says. “That being said, it makes an impact, especially with our business — we’re very focused on the summer festival season in Chicago.”

Earlier this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker advised summer festival organizers to cancel their events out of an abundance of caution. Still, the city hasn’t announced the fate of three-day food festival Taste of Chicago, currently scheduled to kick off July 8, or the upscale Chicago Gourmet, which is slated for late September. “I don’t know what to expect — it’s kind of up in the air,” Wolfson says. “We’re hoping that this can pass us and we can get somewhat of a summer here in Chicago. Festivals are a big part of the Chicago summer outdoor culture and everyone looks forward to these things, especially when you come out of a long winter.”

And in other news...

  • Well-known Rogers Park restaurant owner and chef Saul Moreno of Restaurante Cuetzala Gro died of the novel coronavirus on April 15 at age 58, Block Club Chicago reported. At 13, Moreno moved from his hometown of Mexico City to Chicago, where he developed a passion for restaurants. According to his daughter, Moreno began feeling sick on March 23 and quickly declined to the point that he required hospitalization and a ventilator. Ultimately, he suffered complications and health care workers were unable to wean him off the ventilator. Supporters have raised more than $19,000 for Moreno’s family on GoFundMe.

Thank you all so much for all of the extraordinary support we have received from our family, friends, and customers. We...

Posted by Restaurante Cuetzala Gro on Friday, April 17, 2020
  • Chicago-based chain Potbelly Sandwiches does not intend to return the $10 million loan it received from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), intended for small businesses, Crain’s reported. Other publicly traded companies, including Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Shake Shack, also received PPP loans. All three have been roundly criticized for accepting funds when small food and drink establishments across the country struggle to survive, and Shake Shack announced Monday that it would return the loan. On April 15, it was announced that the federal assistance fund ran out of money. At the end of 2019, Potbelly’s balance sheet showed $19 million in cash.
  • A number of viral stories about the reemergence of animals in quarantined cities have turned out to be fabricated (no, dolphins aren’t swimming in Venetian canals), but some Chicago wildlife has actually seen a change of pace because of the pandemic. The city’s rats that usually rely on restaurant dumpsters and overstuffed outdoor garbage cans have become more bold, according to the Tribune. Rather than venturing out in the dark, Chicago’s rats are scavenging for sustenance during the day, moving closer to residential homes than usual, eating other animals’s refuse, and even cannibalizing their own young or deceased to stave off starvation.
  • Chicago’s acclaimed Alinea Group has closed both its New York luxury cocktail bars, the Aviary (an East Coast outpost of the Chicago original) and the Office, according to Eater NY. The Columbus Circle bars were already scheduled to close April 15 in a move unrelated to the coronavirus, Alinea co-founder and restaurateur Nick Kokonas told reporters, but shelter-in-place orders expedited the closures.


5420 North Clark Street, , IL 60640 (708) 607-2102 Visit Website


5420 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL Visit Website

FINOM Coffee

4200 Irving Park Road, , IL 60641 (312) 620-5010 Visit Website

The Office

955 West Fulton Market, , IL 60607 (312) 226-0868 Visit Website

Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro

3905 North Lincoln Avenue, , IL 60613 (773) 248-3905 Visit Website

The Point

401 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 666-1600 Visit Website

The Aviary

955 West Fulton Market, , IL 60607 Visit Website

Chicago's Dog House

816 West Fullerton Avenue, , IL 60614 (773) 248-3647 Visit Website

Shake Shack

332 North Garden, , MN 55425 (952) 466-6056 Visit Website


1723 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 Visit Website


1462 E. 53rd Street, Chicago, IL