The COVID-19 pandemic and Illinois’s subsequent stay-at-home order, now extended through at least the end of May, has forced Chicago’s independent restaurants and bars into survival mode. But even those that are able to reopen once the order is lifted could face a new, uncertain reality that might involve dining rooms at half-capacity, servers in masks, or temperature checks for customers at the door. It’s a scenario that Jeanne Roeser, owner of beloved 24-year-old breakfast and brunch restaurant Toast, couldn’t imagine in her cozy, friendly space. On Wednesday, she announced in a public letter posted to Facebook that Toast, with locations in Bucktown and Lincoln Park, won’t reopen after the order is lifted.
“I just couldn’t envision it, having half my tables gone, having people come in and ordering through an app for less contact,” Roeser said. “It felt so wrong and I thought, Toast is one of my babies. It’s one of my kids, because I had it alongside my kids. I thought, I would like to go out with people saying, ‘I remember getting engaged there, I remember my first date there, or my baby’s first trip out of the hospital.’ Not some kind of scary, sad, post-apocalyptic brunch situation.”
There are also permanent changes coming to Wicker Park beer bar Links Taproom, according to a Facebook post Thursday. Links will not reopen at 1559 N. Milwaukee Avenue, where it has operated for six years, ownership wrote, but the business will still pop up occasionally around Chicago. “This is not the end for us, it is simply a new beginning,” the post reads. “Unfortunately, with the current situation, we cannot say for certain when or where we will see you again, but, rest assured, we WILL see you all again.”
Heartbroken fans flooded Toast’s and Links’s posts with comments expressing their well-wishes and detailing their favorite memories of the respective establishments. While Roeser is mourning the loss of Toast, she still can’t imagine herself in any other industry. “In the restaurant business, there is something breaking and something going wrong every day,” she said. “This is the thing that I’m good at, this is what I’m meant to do. I can’t imagine not having that in my life, and I’ll find a way to do it, but right now I’m taking a deep breath and figuring it out.”
And in other news...
- Crown Liquors Taproom, a well-known “slashie,” or combination bar and liquor store, is closed permanently on the Logan Square/Avondale border at 2821 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Block Club Chicago reported. The establishment’s opening year is unclear, but a previous owner told reporters in 2015 that it dates back to the end of prohibition. It remains unknown whether or not the closure is related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but regardless of the cause, its demise is regarded by staff and neighbors as a serious loss to the neighborhood.
- One of Chicago’s oldest breweries quietly stopped brewing in March, ending a 11-year saga for Argus Brewery, according to the Tribune. Founded in 2009 in Roseland, the brewery “hovered at the edge of the beer drinking consciousness,” getting by without fully breaking into Chicago’s dense craft brewery scene. When the pandemic-induced dine-in closures first struck, about three-quarters of Argus’s business was draft beer, which ultimately brought about founder Bob Jensen’s decision to pull the plug.
- Popular skate shoe company Vans has debuted its “Foot the Bill” initiative, aimed at raising funds for small creative businesses with customizable designs on its famous slip-on shoes. Two Chicago hospitality establishments are involved thus far: intimate Lakeview music venue Metro and hospitality group Land & Sea Dept. are both featured in the collection of customizable kicks.
- The chefs behind Avondale’s Honey Butter Fried Chicken — Josh Kulp, Christine Cikowski, and Cam Waron — are keeping their eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel and auctioning off a post-shutdown private patio party for 20. At the time of publication, the highest bid is $3,500. All proceeds will go toward health insurance premiums for HBFC’s furloughed staff during the dine-in shutdown. Bids on the patio party can be placed online.
- Manny’s Deli, a Chicago institution since 1942, has long been home to one of the city’s largest lunch crowds of workers, tourists, and politicians. It’s also among the city’s few remaining Ashkenazi Jewish kosher-style delis and cafeterias, and now that its dining room is closed due to the pandemic, ownership has seen a 70 percent drop in business, the Tribune reported. Fourth-generation co-owner Dan Raskin told reporters that all his employees are still on the payroll, and despite challenges, he is doing everything he can to keep the deli solvent — including adding delivery and carryout via ordering and reservation portal Tock.