The COVID-19 pandemic has scarred two major fast-food chains with strong ties to Illinois: Potbelly Sandwiches and Steak ‘N Shake. Over an earnings call, Potbelly CEO Alan Johnson said the sandwich chain is considering closing 100 locations. Meanwhile, Steak ‘N Shake’s parent company has already closed 57 of its approximate 550 locations, as outlined in its first-quarter report.
Potbelly, founded in 1977 along Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, has seen same-store sales drop by 68 percent since the pandemic began, according to the company and as reported by Restaurant Business. Even before the crisis, the chain tried new strategies including testing out a new store design. Potbelly has taken to selling its meats and cheese as pantry items so customers could assemble their own sandwiches at home. Potbelly was among the first wave of companies to receive federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans, but it ultimately returned the $10 million after public outcry and prompting from the Treasury Department.
Steak ‘N Shake debuted in 1934 in Downstate Normal and is headquartered in Indianapolis. While takeout and drive-thru operations have remained open, the Indy Star reports sales dropped 57 percent compared to the same period in 2019. The company hasn’t shared which starts will close, however, Crain’s reports six of the Chicago area’s 29 locations are listed as temporarily closed. The chain opened its first city location in 2018, one with an urban design without a drive-thru at University Village.
Meanwhile, during Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker was asked what made crowded grocery stores safer than dine-in restaurants. Restaurant owners are still chomping at the bit to reopen. Pritzker reasoned that the the federal government had deemed grocery stores as essential businesses, and thus they were able to remain open during stay at home. Pritzker said it’s hard to imagine keeping residents sheltered at home if grocery stores weren’t allowed to open: “Let me begin that my job is to keep the people of Illinois safe,” he said.
Pritzker once again stressed he was depending on the advise of scientists and their research. He said any restaurant owners wanting to reopen before the end of June — June 26 is the earliest dine-in restaurants and bars could open in the state under the Restore Illinois plan — probably haven’t consulted with an epidemiologist. Pritzker said he has.
And in other news...
- Little Village tortilla maker El Milagro will remain closed indefinitely until a previously deferred construction project is complete, according to the Tribune. Company leadership closed the factory in late April following the death of a worker from complications related to COVID-19. It was originally slated to reopen May 9 after being deep-cleaned and sanitized by an outside company, and employees scheduled to work during that time were paid for 40 hours a week. It remains unknown whether or not workers are still being paid.
- Sunday Dinner Club, the popular underground dining series from Honey Butter Fried Chicken chefs and owners Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp, is bringing back its popular SDC burger (cheddar, green garlic aioli, arugula, potato bun), served with macaroni salad (asparagus, radish, celery, creamy dressing) and a chocolate chip toffee cookie bar. Place orders for the meal ($25 per person) online via Tock. Pick up is from the Honey Butter patio at 3361 N. Elston Avenue. Honey Butter Fried Chicken has been closed since March 30.
- Who would have imagined Wiener Circle and Tock teaming up? Well, the infamous hot dog stand in Lincoln Park is back open for pickup through online ordering on the platform from Alinea Group co-owner and co-founder Nick Kokonas. Customers can order hot dogs, burgers, fries, and chicken sandwiches. These come with curbside delivery with an option to “add an extra side of curbside abuse.” Kokonas posted on Twitter that this proves that Tock isn’t just for upscale restaurants.
First there was @NiseiLounge now there is @TheWienerCircle on @Tock. If *anyone* ever says Tock is only for high end restaurants -- something I've always rejected -- my case is now complete.— nick kokonas (@nickkokonas) May 12, 2020
Welcome Wiener Circle.... Chicago icon. Bastion of great dogs and good feelings. pic.twitter.com/y8ZN4QeAce
- The Tribune visits Indiana were many restaurants reopened its dining rooms this week. It’s a new reality of diminished capacities, plexiglass, and tape marking off booths.
- Chicago-based startup Farmer’s Fridge, known for packaging fresh foods like salads and grain bowls for sale through vending machines, is collaborating with some of Chicago’s best-known chefs on a collection delivery-only options. Acclaimed chef Paul Kahan (the Publican) designed the inaugural item, “the Guide’s Special” (Publican Quality Bread, smoked gouda, ham, turkey, bread & butter pickles, spicy dijon, white miso paste with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, olive oil, tomato on the side), inspired by his musky fishing trips to the Wisconsin Northwoods. Other participating chefs include Chicago chefs Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde) and Lee Wolen (Boka, Somerset), as well as New York chefs Missy Robbins (Lilia and Misi) and Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde, the Dutch, Lafayette). A portion of sales will go to employee relief funds at the chef’s restaurant or an area nonprofit.
- Boxes of free food are now available to people in need every Tuesday in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, according to Block Club Chicago. Starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays through mid-June, the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation and the Greater Chicago Food Depository distribute boxes of produce and shelf-stable items to residents while supplies last in a parking lot at 7408 S. Halsted Street, outside a now-shuttered Save-A-Lot. Boxes are available on a first come, first serve basis.
- Logan Square grocery cooperative the Dill Pickle Food Co-Op was temporarily shut down Tuesday by the city after the store failed a health inspection on May 5, Block Club Chicago reported. Violations include expired products in the kitchen’s walk-in cooler, as well as seven dead mice, around 100 rodent droppings, and dead insects in the basement at 2746 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The co-op also violated the health code by failing to create a written employee health policy. The store was reinspected on Tuesday and much of the problems were corrected, according to city records. The earliest it could reopen is on Friday, according to Block Club.