Popular Loop food hall Wells Street Market, just south of the Chicago River and east of Wacker Drive and Lake Street, reopens Monday with a handful of vendors, as well as online ordering and pickup. It’s also the first of Chicago’s food hall to reopen with indoor dining, albeit limited, after the state ordered food and drink establishments to close their dining rooms in March. West Loop hall Politan Row reopened its patio for outdoor dining in June.
Operators at Donut spot Firecakes, fried chicken expert Fry the Coop, Tabo Sushi from decorated chef Takashi Yagihashi, and drink destination Grand Central Bar all felt comfortable enough to resume business, according to general manager John Williamson.
“First and foremost, it’s about making sure that we’re able to open safely — that’s been the highest priority for us and the tenants,” Williamson says. “by enforcing the rules and making sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’re setting ourselves up to get back in the game at a good time.”
As at all restaurants in Chicago right now, diners and staff must wear masks and stay six feet apart, guided by floor decals. Patrons are also guided along a one-way path, entering from Wacker Drive and exiting through a revolving door on Wells Street, and staff take headcounts to make sure they’re abiding by the city’s rules. Online ordering is also available through third-party companies including Toast, Tock, and Ritual, and customers can snag pickup orders through a large walk-up window on Wells.
In addition to social distancing and face coverings, the teams have staggered their hours to minimize the number of workers inside the space at a given time. Firecakes, for example, does most of its business before lunch, followed by Fry the Coop and Tabo Sushi, which serve in the early afternoon and shut down by 3 p.m. That allows Grand Central Bar “the run of the place” for cocktails (also available to go) until close, Williamson says.
The market’s other vendors, including Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s (Purple Pig) Piggie Smalls, seasonally-focused Fare, and Italian sandwich outpost Tempesta Market (from the owners of the West Town original), haven’t yet decided when they’ll reopen. Williamson hopes to have everyone back in the next few months, he told the Tribune, but says each vendor will make its own decision.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left the food hall industry, previously reliant upon bustling crowds eating and drinking en masse within enclosed spaces, in a difficult position. Despite the additional challenges, new food halls continue to put down roots in Chicago: on the Near West Side, Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall is slated for an August debut with 10 vendors, plus a bar and lounge.
Wells Street Market reopens Monday under some restrictions. Stay tuned for updates on when the remaining vendors plan to reopen.