Chicago-area grocery store employees are considered frontline essential workers who are now prioritized to receive COVID-19 vaccines. They join employee who work at food processing plants under Phase 1B of Illinois’ vaccination rollout that went into effect Monday. The previous phase focused on those 65 and older and health care workers, and those groups will continue to be prioritized.
This phase also includes food and agriculture employees who work with livestock, along with educators, public transit workers, first responders, and all Illinois residents age 65 or over. The city offers an online guide that details how eligible Chicagoans can find the vaccine, but also notes that it may take weeks to get an appointment. There’s also a handy user-generated document with an assortment of links for vaccine administration sites. Officials expect that Phase 1B will extend into March due to a limited supply of doses and providers who can administer the injections. This information is beneficial for plant workers, including those at El Milagro, a factory that’s been temporarily shut down by COVID-19.
Grocery store workers, initially lauded as heroes of the pandemic last spring, have spent nearly a year enduring risky exposure to the public and harassment from customers. Delivery company Instacart has been roundly criticized for recently laying off every employee — including 10 workers at a Mariano’s in suburban Skokie — who voted last year to unionize in a landmark victory for gig workers, according to the Verge. Instacart’s layoffs impact nearly 2,000 of the company’s 10,000 grocery store employees.
Even as huge grocery chains are critiqued for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, their presence in Chicago continues to grow. A plan for an as-yet-unnamed 45,000 square-foot grocery store in Lincoln Square at Lawrence and Western has raised concerns among independent operators that an Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods is bound for the area, according to WBBM. Apparently, developers discovered a loophole that would allow for construction. The neighborhood’s alderman isn’t happy.
Chris Dallas, an owner of HarvesTime Foods on Lawrence Avenue, told reporters that a corporate store in the neighborhood would be like an “atomic bomb” for small businesses like his. Neither Chicago-based developer Hubbard Street Group nor Amazon Fresh would confirm what brand will occupy the space. Around the corner, Gene’s Sausage Shop could also be impacted.
Restaurant workers, unless they’re lucky, will have to wait for the call for an immunization. The Tribune reports that Illinois should expect a boost in vaccine supply to coincide with the restoration of indoor dining at limited capacity (25 percent or 25 people maximum per room; whatever’s larger).
And in other news...
— Celebrity chef Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo) gets into the nitty gritty of how he’s kept his businesses viable and his staff working and fed during the extreme challenges of the pandemic for Zagat. Bayless preaches that restaurant workers should be valued, that they’re not replaceable — that’s something that’s irked an industry desperate to get the federal government’s attention for COVID-19 relief packages. Bayless also calls on Chicagoans who value restaurants as cultural institutions to recognize the make-or-break nature of this moment and support the businesses they cherish.
— Chicago’s largest restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, is resurrecting some of its most popular brands from years past as virtual restaurants to spark nostalgia among local diners, according to Crain’s. Familiar hits brought back for a limited time include Vong’s Thai Kitchen, Brasserie Jo, Ben Pao, and Naoki Sushi.
— After seven years, plans for Wrigleyville’s long-anticipated Culver’s location have officially fallen through, according to Block Club. The Wisconsin-based fast food franchise announced the location near Wrigley Field in 2014, but ultimately opened its first Chicago outpost in Bronzeville two years later. Franchisee Justin Obreicht told reporters that the pandemic and its impact on sports events made the project untenable.
— A fourth-floor fire this week at Mexican restaurant Taqueria Casa Del Pueblo at 1834 S. Blue Island Avenue in Pilsen has closed the business indefinitely, according to a Facebook post. There were no injuries. “We suffered lots of water damage [but] we are thankful nothing more tragic happened,” ownership writes in the post. “... rest assured, we will rebuild and we will be back!!!”
— A photo-essay paying tribute to the sweaty dance floor at iconic bar-salon combo Beauty Bar in West Town from Glitterguts’ Sarah Joyce appears in Comfort Hive magazine’s Winter 2021 issue. The virtual magazine is available through a sliding-scale donation with all proceeds going to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.