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El Milagro Tortilla Employees Among Essential Workers Needing Better COVID-19 Protections

Plus, Portillo’s pushes New Year’s resolutioners toward beef bowls

A tortilla truck.
Factory workers, like those at El Milagro, have been getting sick during the pandemic.
Christopher Dilts/Eater

Essential manufacturing and factory workers in Chicago, including those in the food and beverage industry, are continuing to contract COVID-19 at staggering rates, according to a report from Block Club Chicago. Among them are employees at well-known tortilla company El Milagro Tortilla Factory in Little Village, where more than 80 workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of September 30. The factory temporarily closed in April after a longtime employee died from complications of the virus.

El Milagro, which sells chips to stores and supplies tortillas to restaurants, is a Chicago institution founded in 1950 by Raul Lopez. El Milagro operates factories in Pilsen and Little Village, as well as three taquerias in the Chicago area plus restaurants in Austin, Texas and Atlanta.

The problem, experts and employees told Block Club, is that city-run programs fall short for residents who cannot work from home or take time off when they fall ill. While initiatives like Protect Chicago, which sends volunteers to neighborhoods with high infection rates to distribute masks, informational packets, and hand sanitizer, are a positive step, they don’t address the underlying issues. Workers and their families need prompt and convenient testing that’s available at night and on weekends, along with financial support that allows them to stay home when they are sick.

Factories and manufacturers are the top source of COVID-19 outbreaks in Illinois since July 1, with 116 outbreaks in their facilities, according to state contact tracing data. Dr. Howard Ehrman, Chicago’s former assistant health commissioner, tells reporters that the state’s prominent manufacturing sector likely means there are more outbreaks that weren’t officially documented. Ehrman doesn’t address El Milagro specifically, but contends that in general, these workers aren’t spaced out sufficiently, aren’t given adequate masks, and don’t have barriers between them.

And in other news...

— James Beard Award-winning local chefs Beverly Kim (Parachute, Wherewithall) and Sarah Stegner (Prairie Grass Cafe) will sit on a virtual panel of eight women, including Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, to share their experiences as women and moms working in the hospitality industry. Moderated by Dana Cowin, former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, the panel will discuss how women can see professional success in the industry while also growing their families — an issue that’s the heart of Kim’s newish project, the Abundance Setting. It’ll be held at noon on Tuesday, January 19. Tickets ($10) are available via Eventbrite.

Portillo’s wants folks with New Year’s resolutions know they can cut carbs by enjoying an Italian beef bowl which includes the thinly sliced beef, jus, and peppers Chicagoans expect from a normal beef sandwich... but without the French bread. The company actually unfurled the product in August, but a timely tweet has ruffled the feathers of some Chicagoans who wonder if the existence of such product is holy. The Tribune has a write up, as one of the paper’s political editors, Eric Krol, also points out that rival Buona Beef has offered up its own beef bowl for years. Time will tell if Portillo’s creation gets as famous as KFC’s. But even Noble Square’s late-night Mexican favorite La Pasadilla offers burrito bowls, so this trend is here to stay.

— Historic bar, bowling alley, and billiards hall Southport Lanes may reopen this year thanks to a $70,000 Business Interruption Grant from the state, according to Block Club. Owner Steve Soble announced that the business would permanently close in September due to financial strain from the pandemic. Soble now tells reporters that the grant money and additional Paycheck Protection Program funds he received could be enough for him to reopen in the spring.

— Modern Indian restaurant Superkhana International has started selling breakfast for the firs time, featuring its version of a bun omelet. It’s available for pickup or delivery via Toast in Logan Square. The new item means that Superkahna joins street-food spot Eggoholic in River West in offering Indian-style egg breakfasts.

An egg breakfast sandwich held in front of a purple sheet
Superkhana’s take on an Indian bun omelet.
Superkhana International [Official Photo]

Parachute

3472 North Elston Avenue, , IL 60618 (872) 204-7138 Visit Website

Superkhana International

3059 West Diversey Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 661-9028 Visit Website

Wherewithall

3472 North Elston Avenue, , IL 60618 (773) 692-2192 Visit Website

El Milagro Tortilla

2919 S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60608 (773) 650-1614 Visit Website

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