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Desperate for Outdoor Dining Solutions for Winter, Chicago Launches Contest

Plus, the vice chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association talks to Fox News about crime in Downtown Chicago

A plastic dome that looks like an igloo for two people to gather near the Chicago River.
Perhaps a designer will turn the entire city into a large bio-dome.
City Winery [Official Photo]

Patio season at Chicago restaurants is in full swing for the time being, but the city’s hospitality industry is keenly aware that these balmy days are numbered and freezing winter temperatures will inevitably return. The pandemic has turned outdoor service from a nice addition into a lifeline for bars and restaurants, as the city has limited the number of diners allowed indoors. In turn, officials will soon attempt to harness Chicagoans’ ingenuity with the Winter Dining Challenge, a contest asking locals to submit ideas to “stimulate and encourage” winter outdoor dining that’s safe for both workers and patrons. Winning ideas are eligible to snag a $5,000 cash prize.

True to form, Twitter users are brimming with helpful suggestions, like opening a restaurant “in the Bean.” Other popular ideas on social media include transparent enclosures like City Winery’s popular “River Domes” and heat lamps — plus blankets and schnapps, a la Denmark.

However, not all chatter has been positive as the city is essentially crowdsourcing for ideas. Many in the service industry are looking for the city to help find more money to help their small businesses instead of turning to bank-sponsored gimmicks.

Some submissions are already available for perusal online. Most are straightforward riffs on some kind of bubble or tent to shield customers from the wintery mix, but a few have suggested repurposing city property in a surprising way: two contributors so far have floated the notion of dining inside city buses.

Solutions should address dine-in, not delivery or carryout, and can integrate ideas related to both the physical space and operations. Innovative types can submit suggestions online through the evening of Tuesday, September 7, when the project will shift into the evaluation phase. Top ideas should be announced September 29. The city is holding the competition in partnership with the Illinois Restaurant Association, BMO Harris Bank, and California-based design firm IDEO.

And other in news...

—Sam Sanchez, the owner of Chicago bars — including Old Crow Smokehouse and Moe’s Cantina in River North and Wrigleyville (he was also responsible for the infamous John Barleycorn) — went on Fox News Channel over the weekend to talk about the affect looting had on his River North business, which was vandalized in June. Sanchez is also the vice chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association. The segment was framed as asking Sanchez about last week’s Democratic National Convention, with Fox host Pete Hegseth opining that the DNC ignored violence from looting across the country. Fox producers also tossed up stats on the screen about rising crime in Chicago, a classic diversionary Republican talking point. Sanchez, known for his support of law enforcement — he wore a “Blue Lives Matter” shirt while addressing the Chicago City Council in May — told Fox, “we don’t see any safety in the city,” and that suburban customers no longer visited his downtown locations. With tourism dead, that all contributed to a 80-percent drop in sales since the pandemic started. Sanchez says crime poses are a larger threat to business than COVID-19. To his credit, he didn’t take Fox’s partisan bait and says about Chicago’s City Council: “There are good Democrats in the city, but they are being ignored.”

— Eater 38 member Honey Butter Fried Chicken is temporarily closed in Avondale after ownership announced Tuesday that a worker tested positive for COVID-19. Owners write they closed out of caution; the government doesn’t require restaurants to inform the public of a positive test, nor does it mandate them to close. Honey Butter had hired a physician consultant to help them manage processes so it could operate takeout more safely: “We have robust procedures put in place to keep in compliance with CDC guidelines for COVID-19, and we are following our plan to keep you and our team members safe.” Check the restaurant’s social media for reopening updates. The worker in question is asymptotic. Honey Butter Fried Chicken co-owner Christine Cikowksi says they’re testing all employees. When they’ll reopen will depend on those results and how fast the lab turns them over.

— As Black entrepreneurship is in the spotlight in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, One Eleven Food Hall — the Pullman project that features three Black-owned restaurants — is hosting a panel with three distinguished Black Chicago chefs. “Black in Culinary” features Stephanie Hart (Brown Sugar Bakery), Lamar Moore (Vegas Chef Prizefight), and Dominque Leach (Lexington Betty Smokehouse). The panel will be streamed live at 6 p.m. on August 31 via Facebook Live. For more details go head over to the food hall’s Facebook page.

— And finally: two more Chicago restaurants have joined the growing contingent of local businesses shut down by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP). Lincoln Park pizza spot La Roccia and Logan Square restaurant and bar Granero both received two citations for operating after midnight and violating social distancing and masking guidelines, according to the Tribune.

Old Crow Smokehouse

3506 North Clark Street, , IL 60657 (773) 537-4452 Visit Website

One Eleven Food Hall

756 East 111th Street, , IL 60628 Visit Website

Brown Sugar Bakery

328 East 75th Street, , IL 60619 (773) 224-6262 Visit Website

Honey Butter Fried Chicken

3361 North Elston Avenue, , IL 60618 (773) 478-4000 Visit Website