International grab-and-go sandwich chain Pret a Manger has closed nearly all its Chicago locations due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving its University of Chicago shop as the last local vestige of the U.K.-based company, according to a news release. The company has seen an 87 percent drop in sales, Restaurant Business Online reported in late July, and has also pulled out of the Boston market, closing a total of 17 locations between the two cities.
Pret a Manger, or simply “Pret” to many, had found success as an unchallenging and expedient solution for office workers seeking a fast lunch that doesn’t require much thought in a convenient location — downtown’s subterranean Pedway, for example. Now the majority of those employees are working from home and don’t need to grab a midday meal from company’s recognizable rows of open refrigerators.
The company, originally founded in London in 1983, still operates 51 locations in New York City, Washington DC, and Philadelphia, and true devotees in those cities can order Pret for delivery through a partnership with Grubhub and Seamless. Chicago’s first Pret location debuted in 2010 in the Loop. The owner of Peet’s, Panera Bread, and Krispy Kreme, JAB Holding Co., acquired a majority stake in the company for $2 billion in 2018.
The abrupt shift away from offices and commuter culture has presented serious problems for many downtown restaurants designed to serve the waves of workers coming in and out of the area, including fast-casual spot Kaliflower at 333 N. Michigan Avenue. Owner Ben Arnstein says his team is creating cauliflower-crust pizzas to sell wholesale instead of making dishes to order for lunchtime crowds. Other large chains are struggling, too: Dunkin’ Donuts announced that it expects to close 800 U.S. locations by the end of the year.
In other news...
— The team behind essential Chicago doughnut shop D&D’s Place is seeking financial support from the community after a driver on August 11 crashed a cargo van into the front of the Ashburn shop, according to Block Club Chicago. Owners Devell and Lolita Brittmon were inside the store at 8324 S. Kedzie Avenue when the crash occurred, and though no one was injured, the incident resulted in $8,000 in damage to the building. The driver reportedly did not have a license or insurance. The Brittmons’ daughters have since set up a GoFundMe page with a $7,500 goal.
— Korean fried chicken chain Choong Man Chicken has opened its first Illinois location in suburban Glenview, according to Chicago and other media reports. Diners can devour twice-fried birds and pickled radish cubes doused in sauces like snow onion and red hot pepper at picnic tables under a tent on Milwaukee Avenue.