Longtime West Loop food hall Chicago’s French Market will feature a diminished vendor lineup this winter due to a limited pool of customers in the area — a result of the pandemic that’s become a daily struggle for many downtown restaurants. Some vendors will go into “partial hibernation” until March 1, according to a news release.
In the meantime, the market will remain open with a “core group” of vendors, such as a branch of Vietnamese destination Saigon Sisters and Indian stall Klay Oven Kitchen. These stalls will continue to offer a mix of dine-in, carryout, curbside pick-up and delivery.
The approach bears marked similarities to that of downtown tourist destination Navy Pier, which mostly closed on Labor Day due to a lack of business during the pandemic. The decision shut down more than 70 restaurants, bars, and other businesses inside the complex, leaving only enormous, domed patio bar Offshore as the sole operating tenant. For some vendors, the shutdown was a relief — a partner at cocktail spot Tiny Tavern told the Trib that without visitors and downtown workers, costs at the bar significantly outweighed revenue.
The public health crisis has presented serious problems for food halls, most of which rely on large indoor spaces with communal seating — a setting that health experts have stridently warned against. Fulton Market food hall Time Out Market Chicago reopened in August with eight of its original 17 restaurants, and Wells Street Market in the Loop permanently closed in mid-September. The pandemic has also delayed a few food halls, like two locations of Urbanspace.
Chicago French Market leadership is hopeful that commuters, downtown workers, and visitors will be able to safely return to the area by spring of next year. Nearly a year after Chicago shut down to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, operators plan to be “roaring back to the same sold out capacity as we were before the shelter in place order was given.”
And in other news...
— One of Japan’s most famous and adorable faces returns to suburban Chicago in October: the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck is back and making “supercute” stops in Oak Brook and Naperville, according to a news release. Fans can expect a menu of madeleine cookie sets, “Giant Hello Kitty Cafe Chef Cookies,” lunchboxes, limited-edition collectibles, and more. This isn’t Kitty’s first visit to the Chicago area — the truck appeared at Oak Brook Center in 2016 and sold out completely, much to the chagrin of crying children and their parents who waited in line for hours. New pandemic-era safety procedures include social distancing markers on the ground, sanitization of counters and payment readers, and entirely contactless transactions (no cash). The truck will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday at Oakbrook Center, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on October 10 at Main Street Promenade in Naperville.
— The first ever Wicker Park/Bucktown Restaurant Week featuring more than 20 area businesses kicks off Monday, according to a news release. Fans will be able to snag a special dish or discount at participating restaurants, which include Filipino spot Cebu, Urbanbelly from lauded chef Bill Kim, and essential taco restaurant Antique Taco. Restaurant week specials will be available from Monday, October 5, through Friday, October 9. Event details are available on the chamber of commerce website.
— Chicago restaurant and bar workers can get a free coronavirus nasal swab test on Wednesday in Andersonville, according to Block Club Chicago. Those who want a test will be required to bring a state ID or drivers license and insurance card. The testing site is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Philadelphia Church, 5437 N. Clark Street. More information is available on the event’s Facebook page.
— The owner of essential all-day venue 3rd Coast Cafe in Gold Coast is asking the public for help staying open through the end of the month, ABC Chicago reports. Janet Thomas, who owns the 35-year-old cafe, told reporters that she has to raise $50,000 by October. Fans and supporters have drummed up more than $21,000 via GoFundMe.