Chicago’s first Women’s Restaurant Week kicked off Wednesday featuring more than 20 of the city’s women-led bars and restaurants with deals, discounts, and special items. The event’s launch was chosen to coincide with Women’s Equality Day and it runs through Monday, August 31.
Rohini Dey, the owner of Vermillion, co-founded the James Beard Foundation’s Women’s Leadership and Women’s Entrepreneurship Leadership programs. She’s been looking to expand membership to bring more women into the fold. During the pandemic, she’s found support in her network, bringing together a group of 17 women restaurateurs. Dey moderates similar conversations with women in 10 cities. They convene once or twice a month to discuss how their businesses are surviving and to share tips.
The Chicago group has grown, and now 20 will offer a variety of discounts and special until Monday. One of those offering specials is chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe in suburban Northbrook. She owns a pair of Beard Awards and appeared on Top Chef.
Stegner has kept busy during the pandemic by holding Zoom cooking classes, showing participants how to prepare fish and deal with beets. For Stegner, this is a way to keep a personal connection with her customers, to remind them through stay-at-home orders and other mandates that her restaurant still exists. Zoom classes are one way, even during a public health crisis, the restaurants can grow a brand. The Beard meetings, called Let’s Talk, tackle subjects like this, giving women ideas on how to keep their business afloat.
“People are desperate for this personal connection,” Stegner says.
As the pandemic continues, Stegner has seen class participants ask more advanced questions. They’ve started to order produce from CSAs (community-support agriculture). She’s teaching folks to properly prepare foods, using quality ingredients like grass-fed butter.
Stenger has a good relationship with her restaurant’s landlord. They have patio seating with about 15 tables: “We have shields and masks and gloves, and we’ve separated the tables to the extreme,” she says.
It’s a struggle, but it’s important that other restaurant owners, particularly women, hear about those challenges. It’s important to share solutions.
Here’s a full list of participating restaurants and bars in Chicago’s first-ever Women’s Restaurant Week which goes until Monday:
Bar Sotano (Deann Bayless) — cocktails and food created by women on staff served in the “garden” pop-up in the alley behind the bar
Bistronomic (Laurence Noguier) — $41 prix-fixe menu
Bittersweet (Mindy Gohr) — $28 peach upside-down cake
Brindille (Carrie Nahabedian) — $46 three-course menu, half-price wine on Sunday
The Dandy Crown (Julia Shell and Sarah Syman) — Rotating speciality cocktails created by women on staff
The Dearborn (Clodagh Lawless and Amy Lawless) — $45 three-course menu
Demera (Tigist Reda) — 15 percent off dine-in, takeout, and delivery orders with the code “WOMENWEEK”
Floriole (Sandra Holl) — TBD
HaiSous (Danielle Dang) — BOGO summer cocktail, counter service only
J Lohr Vineyards and Wines (Cynthia Lohr and Kristen Barnhisel) — TBD
Kumiko (Julia Momose) — Each $60 bottle of “Seaside” sparkling sake comes with complimentary yuzu-kosho karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and shio koji pickles. Preorder is available on Kumiko’s website.
Mi Tocaya Antojeria (Diana Dávila) — TBD
Prairie Grass Cafe (Sarah Stegner) — Curbside dinner specials featuring produce from Nichols Farm & Orchard, Mick Klug Farm, and Three Sisters Garden
Pretty Cool Ice Cream (Dana Salls Cree) — $10 pints of Thai tea coconut swirl and sweet corn and black raspberry swirl
Saigon Sisters (Mary Aregoni) — $40 “Special World Tour” menu featuring Singaporian and Balinese cuisine for dine-in, carryout, and delivery that serves 2-3 people
Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique (Teresa Ging) — 10 percent off pickup and delivery orders
TeaGschwendner (Agnes Rapacz) — BOGO to-go orders
Vanille (Sophie Evanoff) — BOGO dipped cones at locations in Lincoln Park and the French Market
Vermilion (Rohini Dey) — $45 four-course patio dinner of featuring Indian-Latin cuisine