As small business owners continue to apply for novel coronavirus financial aid, some restaurant owners are starting to realize they won't reopen when the pandemic ends. One such spot is in Bucktown, home of Darnell Reed’s second restaurant. Reed tells Eater Chicago that Luella’s Gospel Bird, his fried chicken restaurant that he opened in 2018, is closed permanently at 2009 N. Damen Avenue.
Reed is focusing on ensuring his first restaurant, Luella’s Southern Kitchen, 4608 N. Lincoln Avenue, continues business in Lincoln Square; there’s a GoFundMe page for workers. The two restaurants have entirely different menus, but the Bucktown location faced numerous challenges. The restaurant’s chef departed last year, meaning Reed had to handle operations at both locations. It was made tougher by also caring for his 1-year-old daughter at the same time, Reed says. Catering made the Bucktown location viable, but when the outbreak hit, events and parties were cancelled: “We weren’t making enough,” Reed says.
The Lincoln Square location, which opened five years ago, is still open for dinner during pandemic, and offering takeout. Reed stopped to-go weekend brunch service; not enough folks were ordering. He guesses brunch is a more social meal. The property’s landlord has been very communicative about rent, sending messages about payments plans in the wake of the COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Reed is trying to stay away from taking out loans, preferring to find grants so there’s less likelihood of falling into debt. He wishes the government took unilateral action earlier to shut dine-in restaurants and bars down to help curb the spread of the disease. However, he says Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s leadership has impressed him, feeling the governor “would rather save your life than save your job.”
Reed says he has other ideas for restaurants, but for now his focus is on Lincoln Square and spending more time with his two daughters. He’s also sharpening his skills taking online baking courses via French Pastry School.
And in other news...
- Chef Bo Fowler is scheduled for open-heart surgery Wednesday after suffering a heart attack on Monday. Fowler owns three Logan Square restaurants: Owen & Engine, Fat Willy’s Rib Shack, and Bixi Beer (all of which have GoFundMe pages). She writes, via Facebook, that she can’t have visitors at the hospital due to limiting patients and workers to potential exposure to COVID-19. The Korean-born Fowler, known for her commitment to ethically sourced meats and vegetables, is one of the city’s most beloved culinary figures. Owen & Engine is home to one of the city’s best burgers, while Bixi Beer is a daring departure for beer lovers. The brewery uses Asian ingredients like green tea and Sichuan peppercorns in its brews.
- Two rival gyros companies announced announced merger plans Tuesday, according to the Sun-Times. Suburban Chicago-based Grecian Delight and Kronos Foods produce gyro meat and other Mediterranean fare for restaurants, grocery stores, and even stadiums like Soldier Field. Both companies were founded in the mid-1970s, and leadership hopes the merger will stimulate growth.
- Patel Brothers, the iconic Indian grocer at 2610 W. Devon Avenue, has been closed for more than a week due to COVID-19 safety precautions. The temporary closure came before Tuesday’s news that West Ridge, the neighborhood that houses Chicago’s South Asian enclave, is the area hardest hit by the novel coronavirus. Block Club Chicago mentions that fact without acknowledging any of the potentially affected international groups that make up the diverse neighborhood, which also counts a large population of Orthodox Jews. About 23 percent of the neighborhood’s population is Asian, compared to the average in Chicago, which is about 6 percent Asian. It’s a Census year, so those numbers are subject to change. Other businesses, including another grocer, Kamdar Plaza, 2646 W. Devon Avenue, remain open.
- After selling out po’ boys on two days last week, the team from Michelin-starred Schwa in Wicker Park announced it will sell sandwiches this week. Employees will start taking orders at 4 p.m. Wednesday via Tock for its collaboration with Bridgeport Korean-Polish jewel Kimski. The staff will be selling sandwiches on Thursday and Friday.
- Potbelly Sandwich Shop, which in November unveiled new restaurant designs, is again trying something new. The Chicago-born chain now sells individual ingredients so customers can pick up bread, meats, and cheese and assemble sandwiches at home. The pantry strategy is aimed at customers spending more time at home during the pandemic.
- Hospitality group Land & Sea Dept. is upping the at-home ambiance with a selection of Zoom backgrounds from its various restaurants, according to Chicago. Fans can now virtually post up at Parson’s Chicken & Fish or Cherry Circle Room for a socially distant drink with friends via video conferencing.