As the brand new Biden administration races to accelerate distribution of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide, some local restaurant and bar owners are encouraging Chicagoans to get inoculated with giveaways and setting up contactless drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites staffed by displaced hospitality workers.
Village Tap, a neighborhood bar known for its craft beer selection in Roscoe Village, will give away 1,000 gift cards in $10 increments to customers with proof of vaccination. For owner Jeff Hoffman, the offer is a way to say thank you to health care workers — who constitute the vast majority of vaccinated customers to date — and help hasten a return to normalcy for restaurants.
Bars and dining rooms remain closed across the city due to the pandemic, resulting in extreme financial pressures and sweeping closures. While it’s been a tough year for his 30-year-old family-friendly business. Its popular heated outdoor beer garden — which predates the pandemic — has helped keep the bar viable.
“The only way out of the situation we are in is for people to be vaccinated so we can get back to normal,” Hoffman says. “It’s just our way of trying to promote [the vaccine] for the people that choose to get it. It’s a little thank you — not a ton of money, but it’s what we can do right now.”
Thank you first responders and everyone doing their part to help stem the devastation caused by COVID-19. We care deeply about our staff, our guests, as well as the safety of our community. pic.twitter.com/rwwLp06FQS— The Village Tap (@VillageTap) January 13, 2021
Erik Baylis of Big Onion Hospitality (Fatpour Tap Works, Hopsmith), is also working to help stem the virus’s spread: he’s founded 15 Minute Response, a company that offers no-contact drive-thru COVID-19 testing that provides results within 15 minutes, according to a rep. Baylis has launched three Chicago area locations in Park Ridge, Edison Park, and suburban Woodridge. The sites are staffed by restaurant and bar workers, along with personal trainers and gym employees, who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
Hoffman says he’s noticed that vulnerable hospitality workers haven’t yet been prioritized for vaccines, even as city officials announced Thursday that indoor dining should resume within a week in Chicago. Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said that elderly patients and health care workers will remain priorities for vaccinations. The rest of the public will have to be patient for their turn.
Earlier this month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced restaurant employees will have to wait for their vaccines. The delay only underscores frustration in the industry over a stimulus package that did little to support restaurants. Hoffman hopes his initiative will help channel energy in a positive direction, fostering conversation and sparking ideas instead allowing resentment to fester.
“I think there’s a lot of anger right now in the hospitality industry, a lot of frustration — and I completely understand it,” he says. “But there’s also a way to promote our way out of this, versus doing nothing or being upset about the restrictions that we’re under right now.”
Hoffman says he wouldn’t oppose a vaccine mandate, and that he and his employees have all agreed to get it once they’re eligible. Discussion of apps showing proof of vaccination for admittance to flights, concerts, and sports events has also piqued his interest. “If that’s what allows us to have more business, I am 100 percent aligned with that,” he says.
The Tribune first reported this story.