COVID-19 has thrown the city’s restaurant industry into nearly 12 months of turmoil. Black venue owners, many of whom already felt that their establishments don’t receive enough coverage or support, have faced great odds to keep their businesses solvent. As February is Black History Month, Chicago chefs and restaurant owners are spotlighting these challenges while highlighting Black leaders and entrepreneurs in the city’s hospitality industry.
The Tribune is publishing a series of stories on how eight Black-owned restaurants in the Chicago area are faring in the pandemic: Louisa Chu has written about a franchise of DJ Kahled’s the Licking in the Austin, Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream in Bronzeville, and smoked meat landmark Hecky’s Barbecue in suburban Evanston.
The Triibe published a feature by Amber Gibson on chef Damion Henry of the Langham, the only Black executive chef to lead a luxury hotel kitchen in Chicago. Before COVID-19, he found ways to weave his Jamaican background into the menu with items like Scotch bonnet peppers and Jamaican patties. Now he has to balance the hotel’s fine dining standards with the realities of the pandemic, switching out china plates for to-go immaculate boxes. He’s currently at work on a Valentine’s Day package that includes a four-course meal and private cooking class for two.
Chicago food writer Audarshia Townsend on Substack spotlights virtual West African restaurant Dozzy’s Grill in South Loop. Owner Dozzy Ibekwe draws connections between West African cuisine and soul food, evident most clearly in dishes like gumbo.
One way to celebrate the month is to patronized Black-owned restaurants. Chefs are encouraging that by offering specials. Chicago and Detroit are teaming up. Virtue chef Erick Williams is collaborating with Patrick Coleman, owner of Southern restaurant Beans & Cornbread, just south of Detroit. They’re both offering versions of Coleman’s Shoebox Meals, tributes to his mother and great grandmother who were barred from eating in train dining cars during the Jim Crow era when they traveled and thus packed their own lunches in shoeboxes. Williams’ meal ($22) includes fried chicken, collard greens, and hot sauce biscuits, and will be available from Wednesday, February 17 through Sunday, February 28. Proceeds will go directly to each restaurant’s staff.
Chicago Black Restaurant Week has also returned for its sixth year with a new partner in third-party delivery company Uber Eats. Chicagoans can peruse a list of more than 80 participating restaurants for specials and deals — and hang onto those names for year-round dining inspiration.
And in other news...
— Don’t fret, but the owners of 99-year-old Dinkel’s Bakery have hired brokers to sell two buildings connected to its storefront at 3329 N. Lincoln Avenue. They still plan to keep the business open, according to the Tribune. Norman Dinkel Jr. tells reporters that he’s considering several modernizations, including relocating a possible relocation of part or all of the bakery to a new location. The property isn’t listed.
— Popular pizzeria Dante’s has teamed up with a local grassroots charity to donate and delivery pizza and supplies like blankets to homeless encampments on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Block Club Chicago reports. The People’s Pizza Party has raised more than $20,000 so far over the past eight months and makes weekly visits to seven encampments to drop off a Dante’s pie and other items.