The annual Grant Park food festival Taste of Chicago — much like nearly every other local summer festival — has been canceled in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, but city officials are working to create an online alternative called Taste of Chicago To-Go, according to a news release. Previously slated to run this month in Grant Park, the in-person event brings hundreds of local restaurants and nationally-known musicians to eat, drink, and sweat under the summer sun.
Instead, organizers are now encouraging would-be festival goers to order from 42 local restaurants and food trucks from Wednesday through Sunday, including upscale Albany Park spot Arun’s Thai, “Mayor of Chinatown” Tony Hu’s Sichuan River North Lao Sze Chuan outpost, and casual seafood mini-chain Surf’s Up in Bronzeville. A full list of establishments is available online. There will be an interactive component, too: Fans can watch live online cooking demonstrations by celebrated local chefs like Darnell Reed (Luella’s Southern Kitchen), Maya-Camille Broussard (Justice of the Pies), and Carlos Gaytán (Tzuco) at noon on Wednesday through Saturday.
The city is also expanding the festival’s “Community Eats” program, which debuted last year and encourages participating restaurants to host a free community meal for first responders and community organizations in their area. The program has grown significantly, leaping from last year’s 9 meals to 21 this summer.
Chicago’s summer festival circuit has taken blow after blow, with events of all sizes and genres canceled because of the pandemic. For many vendors and business owners, Chicago’s all-too-brief summer is a vital component of their business model. This year’s canceled and postponed festivals include Andersonville’s Midsommarfest, Do Division Street Fest, and Chicago Brewing District’s Dancing in the Streets.
And in other news...
— Illinois officials have announced the opening of seven new Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) across the state, with five in Chicago, to help businesses affected by the pandemic apply and qualify for emergency assistance from the state and federal government, according to a news release. The state, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and partner organizations are investing $11.5 million in the program to help support the new locations as well as the 35 existing centers across the state. Chicago’s new SBCDs are located at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in West Town, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, the Build Bronzeville/Urban Juncture Foundation, the Rogers Park Business Alliance, and the Chinese Mutual Aid Association in Uptown.
— Former employees at hotel the Robey hotel say they experienced racism and sexism from management while working at the Wicker Park establishment, according to Block Club Chicago. Some have also detailed their experiences on Instagram, specifically describing alleged incidents with Robey head chef Kevin McAllister and general manager Santiago Leon. These include the use of the N-word and discriminatory nicknames like “Aunt Jemima” to describe a biracial employee, groping, forcible kissing, and more. The former workers contend that a lack of human resources management perpetuated the toxic work environment. Since the allegations started surfacing online, an Instagram account for the Robey’s “Diversity and Inclusion Council” appeared, where organizers have promised staff trainings and shared vague statements apparently directed at critics who want leadership to address the allegations publicly. “Speaking on, or addressing accusations does not serve our mission, specifically because that is not our role,” one post reads. “All TRAININGS that happen on-site will be delivered by outside professionals, and the public need not be privy to who the professionals are.”