Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered a warning Wednesday morning to Chicago residents: The city is at a turning point when it comes to battling COVID-19. If residents don’t adhere to social distancing, she won’t hesitate to close businesses. That would include closing bars and suspending on-premise dining at restaurants.
While Chicago is doing well compared to other places in America, the city is creeping close to the point where health experts will consider tightening rules. Lightfoot highlighted safety at bars, saying “they pose a particular challenge.” The city has fined “a number of different bars,” Lightfoot says. By now, bar owners should know that the city is ”not messing around; you’ve got to follow guidance.”
“The last thing I want to do is take steps back,” Lightfoot said at a Wednesday morning news conference. “I don’t want to be like other parts of the country where we’re shutting down commerce, business, again.”
For many restaurant owners, a government-mandated closure could be crippling. After battling since March, reopening represented the start of recovery. California, Florida, and Texas are among states were lawmakers have again closed restaurants and bars as coronavirus cases spiked after the government allowed reopenings. Lightfoot said the city’s looking at a variety of health metrics for guidance, including the number of daily cases. When the city hits 200 cases a day (it’s at 192 presently), it will consider closing indoor dining and bars, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwardy. Arwady said 400 cases a day would be the level of the 17 states on the city’s travel list which imposes a two-week quarantine for people traveling from places like California and Arizona upon arriving in chicago.
There’s also worry that younger residents are ignoring the danger. Since June 15, coinciding with the city’s lift of restrictions on indoor dining and bars, most of Chicago’s COVID-19 cases — 29 percent — have come from people ages 18 to 29. While the city is seeing new cases across Chicago, the majority of cases from that younger cohort are from Lincoln Park.
“Now more than ever we need you all to do the things that have gotten us this far,” said Arwady.
Lightfoot didn’t want to vilify youth. She said she could understand the feelings of invincibility. But she also pointed out it’s just not about them. Ignoring the rules poses a danger to other members of society, including those with compromised immune systems and the elderly. Lightfoot said the city will soon launch an outreach campaign aimed at younger residents.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on restaurants, bars, gyms, other places of entertainment,” Lightfoot said, adding that “Everyone who enters those premises absolutely must wear face coverings. Everyone who enters those premises must engage in social distancing. But it’s clearly not enough because we’re continuing to see those case go up.”
In other news...
— A former sommelier, one who’s also a registered nurse, wrote a Medium essay on her experiences during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Marie Cheslik was the beverage director at Michelin-starred Elske in West Loop. She left the restaurant and returned to health care in March. Elske had shutdown, but is back with a new carryout menu.
In the essay, Cheslik paints a bleak picture at a South Side hospital where she works as a travel nurse: 15-hour shifts, patients gasping for air, fears of spreading the virus to her girlfriend at home. She compares health care to restaurants and has choice words for restaurateurs who have resumed dine-in service. “We don’t need to reopen. We need to understand that the workforce holds the power, and our power source is weakening and dying,” she writes. “Keep your restaurant doors closed. Do take-out. Make safety the priority. Furlough your employees so they can continue to get unemployment. Implement creative solutions. Your willful ignorance is neglect.”
— Manny’s Deli, a South Side Chicago favorite, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “We are struggling. This isn’t a joke. Support your fav deli for dinner tonight. Thx.” It was a startling admission from the institution, one that’s made itself a part of the city’s history as its premier Jewish deli. The call for help quickly triggered two news stories, the first coming from the Tribune and a follow from Block Club Chicago. Third-generation owner, Danny Raskin, tells the Trib that he knows everyone’s struggling, but his 300-seat restaurant — which has pivoted to takeout — is facing challenges. Raskin had taken to making deliveries on the North Shore, home of a large Jewish population. The strategy had been successful, but as dine-in service returned last month, fewer folks were placing orders from Manny’s. Chicago appears to be rallying around the landmark restaurant which opened 78 years ago. Some restaurant owners are hoping residents reserve some of that same energy to help their businesses, too.
— After shutting down for the weekend after a dishwasher tested positive for COVID-19, Alinea plans to reopen its rooftop pop-up on Wednesday in Fulton Market. Alinea management sent an email to staff sharing that no one else tested positive for the disease. All those tested who were in “close contact” with the dishwasher came up negative. Those who haven’t received a test won’t be permitted to return to work until a test is administered. Additionally, the company’s bringing in Dr. Ari Levy to talk with workers about COVID-19’s impact at the restaurant. Alinea is also coordinating a free mobile coronavirus testing site for health care workers and West Loop residents. It’s a collaboration with the state, and the weekend will be a test run. If approved, the site will operate biweekly and be free. Alinea hopes to have more details later this week. The testing will take place Saturday across the street from the Aviary.
— Boka Restaurant Group has launched a new Korean food pop-up from Cold Storage in Fulton Market. Joomak features the talents of Eddie Lee, a chef who’s worked at New York’s famed Eleven Madison Park (where he met Boka chef Lee Wolen), and most recently as chef de cuisine a Boka’s Gold Coast spot Somerset. The restaurant hosted a one-night Korean pop-up with Lee’s food which was the basis for the extended residency at Cold Storage, according to a news release. Dishes included grilled baby octopus, ssams, and savory pancakes. Customers can dine in (reservations via OpenTable) or order for takeout and delivery via Tock, DoorDash, or Caviar.
— Vermilion owner Rohini Dey and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern are hosting a webinar at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the state of the restaurant industry. Dey has been outspoken in recent months about industry-wide issues. Her River North Indian fusion restaurant just underwent a renovation with a new menu. Look for more coverage on that next week.
— A seated customer was shot in the chest and arm around 9:20 a.m. Monday by a gunman at L & G Family restaurant at 2632 E. 75th Street in South Shore, according to the Sun-Times. The gunman reportedly walked inside the restaurant and said something about a feud with the victim, 43, before he fired the gun. The victim was taken to University of Chicago Medical Center and is reportedly in good condition. No arrests have been made.
— Family-owned Mexican street food spot Jarabe in Tri-Taylor suffered extensive damage from a roof fire that broke out Sunday afternoon, according to Block Club Chicago. There were no reported injuries, but there is water damage and fallen pieces of roof inside the space at 2255 W. Taylor Street. Brothers and co-owners Alexis and Teddy Vejar hope to reopen the restaurant by the end of the year. They’ll also launch a new location on August 1, according to a Facebook post.
— New American restaurant the Bristol reopens Wednesday in Bucktown with a new menu from its new executive chef, Larry Feldmeier (Sixteen, the Albert), according to a rep. His summer offerings include a corn pudding (chorizo, shrimp, basil) and agnolotti (fennel pollen, vermouth beurre blanc). As the Tribune notes, founding chef Chris Pandel’s chicken is not among the offerings, nor are prior hits like duck fat fries and monkey bread. The space’s interior has also been refinished, and ownership has “pumped a reported $20,000” into the Bristol’s updated wine selections.
— A pricey piece of restaurant real estate is up for sale, according to the Tribune. Cite, the restaurant that sits atop of Lake Point Tower near Navy Pier, will shut down. The space, which offers lakefront views of the city, is up for sale. If a buyer doesn’t want the space for a restaurant, it could convert the dining room into a private event space.