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Chicago Shuts Down Its First Restaurant for Violating COVID-19 Rules

Plus, Band of Bohemia’s co-owners respond to workers’ allegations of wrongdoing

Over the weekend, the city ordered Wise Owl Drinkery & Cookhouse to immediately close after breaking reopening rules. The West Loop venue’s violations included exceeding 25 percent capacity indoors, failing to maintain social distancing, and not requiring customers to wear face coverings, according to the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection’s (BACP). The restaurant at 324 S. Racine Avenue was among six Chicago businesses to receive citations for violating the city’s safety guidelines for bars and restaurants during the pandemic.

This is the first Chicago restaurant shut down for breaking COVID-19 rules. The city has inspected restaurants since June, when outdoor dining resumed. Many received warnings. The city says violators are subject to $10,000 fines.

“While most businesses are taking the necessary precautions to keep their customers and employees safe, the city will continue to hold the bad actors accountable, and this weekend we issued an immediate closure order to one bar for egregiously and blatantly disregarding the reopening requirements,” a BACP rep wrote in a statement Monday. “Irresponsible actions like this put our entire city at risk and will not be tolerated.”

Concerned neighbors drew attention to the goings-on at Wise Owl in True West Loop post on Facebook Saturday evening. A Wise Owl rep entered the social media thread and attempted to calm commenters. Any safety measures promised had apparently not come to fruition when BACP enforcers arrived.

Wise Owl is the second business BACP has ordered to close immediately since June 3, and enforcers have cited 25 businesses and issued 85 warnings. The first was Chicago Lakefront Cruises, according to media reports. Seeing establishments violate rules intended to keep employees and customers safe from COVID-19 spikes frustrations among many industry workers who are worried that Mayor Lori Lightfoot, like other mayors and governors across the country, will shut establishments down again — a move that would cause immense financial harm at all levels of the industry.

And in other news...

— Ownership at Band of Bohemia, the world’s only Michelin-starred brewpub, released a statement over the weekend aimed at rebutting allegations of mishandling operations during the pandemic and fostering a toxic work environment. Posted to the Band of Bohemia Instagram account Saturday, the statement from co-owners Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar flatly denies allegations published by Eater and the Tribune, as well as those posted to Instagram account @the86dlist.

“At no time in our existence as a brewpub have we neglected the welfare of our staff, who have remained the backbone of our establishment since opening our doors,” the post reads. “We cannot begin to assume the reasoning behind these few employees’ allegations against our business, but hope we can reach a point of mutual understanding in the future.”

Claims against Carroll and Sindelar range from alleged mishandling of funds raised through a GoFundMe page for workers during the pandemic to allegations that the co-owners failed to act when former executive chef Ian Davis was accused of workplace sexism and misconduct. Former Band of Bohemia executive chef Soo Ahn (Grace, EL ideas), as well as other former workers, has spoken publicly about recent specific instances that gave him the impression that ownership was solely focused on saving the restaurant, rather than worker safety.

— Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Stout remains one of the brewery’s top assets, drawing flocks of beer nerds to stores every November to procure every new variety released. Punch has a fun story about the legend of brewers creating their specialized variants. These spoofs aren’t sanctioned by Goose. Unofficial releases include “Double Stuffed,” “German Chocolate Cupcake,” and “Goose Hunting Butterfingers.” Fans love to claim that these beers actually exists, but the story suggests these unique flavors are just rumors spun on the Internet.

— Venerable Northwest Side restaurant Gale Street Inn is temporarily closed until July 22, owner George Karzas wrote in a message on the inn’s website. Chef Liborio Martinez needed to take an unexpected trip to Mexico, so he and all staff will quarantine themselves in the meantime. Karzas promises more news once they return to Jefferson Park later this month.

— A Black Chicago-area food entrepreneur is seeing an increase in sales following Quaker Oats’s recent announcement that it will change the name of Aunt Jemima syrup. Suburban South Holland business owner Michele Hoskins has been producing specialty breakfast syrups for more than 30 years, and as customers are seeking out an alternative to the minstrel show-inspired brand, her products have been thrust to the fore. Hoskins’s syrups, in flavors like Butter Pecan and Maple Creme, are already available at Jewel stores and will land on Mariano’s shelves in the fall. Her wares will also now be stocked by national retailers like Roundy’s, Kroger, and Food 4 Less.

— Teenage residents of Austin on Chicago’s West Side are working to launch a pop-up food market at 423 N. Laramie Avenue in an effort to bring fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers to an area of the city where those items are in very short supply, Block Club Chicago reported. The teens are participants in the By the Hand Club for Kids, a faith-based after school program for youth in under-resourced neighborhoods that’s overseen by the Moody Church. A number of pro athletes, including former Chicago Bears linebacker Sam Acho, have raised $500,000 to tear down the liquor store that currently sits in the Laramie Avenue space. The club is also working on a partnership with local food and beverage incubator the Hatchery to help youth develop business skills and hospitality industry experience.

Goose Island Beer Co.

1800 W Fulton St, Chicago, IL 60612 (312) 226-1119 Visit Website

Gale Street Inn

4914 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60630 (773) 725-1300 Visit Website

Wise Owl

324 S Racine Ave, Chicago, IL 60607

Band of Bohemia

4710 North Ravenswood Avenue, , IL 60640 (773) 271-4710 Visit Website