A local meal kit company and its auto-cooking smart oven earned a shoutout from famous former Chicagoan Oprah Winfrey via her popular Oprah’s Favorite Things 2021 holiday gift list, an annual roundup of the icon’s top picks for holiday shoppers. Tovala Smart Oven, the four-year-old brand that aims to lighten the dinnertime lift for users with a combination food subscription service and high tech oven, became a hit during the pandemic and has since brought in more than $50 million in funding.
Winfrey credits her closest friend, journalist Gayle King, with sharing the good news about Tovala, claiming that King relied on the oven throughout months of pandemic-induced isolation. The current iteration of Tovala’s rotating menu of pre-prepped meals includes cheese-stuffed shells with Italian sausage ragu and coconut-crusted salmon (mango salsa, cilantro chimichurri).
Meal kits are a competitive industry that includes Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, but analysts worry that the bubble will burst post pandemic. Tovala brass feel its oven sets it apart as the appeal of a set-it-and-forget-it oven is apparent, especially for weary parents and others who have many mouths to feed. Still, many Chicagoans are still turning to low-tech kits coming out of local restaurant kitchens, offering everything from DIY pizzas to Michelin-star-caliber dinners.
City sorts through five casino proposals
The dream of a casino and all the money it can bring in is still alive in Chicago, and last week, four developers submitted five proposals for potential sites, the Tribune reported. The double-dipper is Bally’s; the others are HR Chicago, Rivers Chicago at McCormick, and Rivers 78 Gaming. The proposed sites are all around the periphery of downtown: at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center at Chicago and Halsted, at McCormick Place, and the 78 Chicago development South of the Loop. The next step is for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to sort through the proposals and make a decision.
A triumphant return for Solazo
In September, two years after it was shut down because of an electrical fire, El Solazo reopened in the West Elsdon neighborhood on the Southwest Side with a slightly new name— Solazo — and a redesigned interior and menu, plus a liquor license. According to the Tribune’s Nick Kindelsperger, who published his review this morning, the revamp has been a success. The food reflects what owner Pepe Barajas learned during an extensive research trip to Oaxaca; highlights include enchiladas de pollo rostizado con mole coloradito and suadero tacos. The decor more closely resembles Barajas’s other restaurant, La Josie in West Loop, and the prices are higher than they were before, but Kindelsperger thinks it’s worth it. Solazo presently sits on Eater Chicago’s Heatmap.
Starbucks workers receive support in effort to unionize
Starbucks workers at three stores in Buffalo, New York, who are trying to unionize just received some important support from the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled last week that the union vote will be limited to just those three stores instead of the entire 20-unit market, Restaurant Business reports. That means that the workers will need just 65 yea votes to unionize instead of 226. The election, which will be done by mail, will begin November 10 and continue through December 8. The workers say that they’re not organizing because they have specific complaints about pay or working conditions but because they want to have a greater say in the direction the brand is taking. The Starbucks unionization efforts follow those at Colectivo Coffee, which in August became the largest unionized workforce at a coffee company.
Barrel-aged beer fest tickets now on sale
Tickets are now on sale for the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, which bills itself as North America’s largest barrel-aged beer festival and competition and this year takes place November 12 and 13 at Credit Union 1 Arena, 525 S. Racine Avenue. There will be a tasting session each day of the festival — admission is $85 plus fees — and a to-go option in which beer enthusiasts can pick up $60 six-packs of randomly selected beers across the 14 competition categories. For more information, including the brewer list, and tickets, visit the FoBAB website.
Cruz Blanca announces Luchador release day
In other barrel-aged beer news, Cruz Blanca Brewery’s 2021 Luchador series returns on Saturday, November 20, with eight new brews. Preorders for bottles begin this Wednesday, November 3, at noon through the OZNR app. Customers can also purchase tickets for tastings at the brewery’s West Loop taproom on release day for $35.