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Another Top Chicago Baking Company Sunsets Its Fresh Bread Business

Plus, Tock reserves 51,000-square feet in new Fulton Market office space

A baking sheet full of frozen balls of dough.
Highland Baking Co. is now focusing its frozen line.

In September, Chicago-area bread maker Highland Baking Co. will leave the fresh bread business after 37 years. In an email sent to clients on July 6, Highland’s owners blamed the “extraordinary shift in labor availability” that resulted from the pandemic, one that’s impacted nearly every corner of the hospitality industry.

“We are no longer able to maintain the level of service that our direct delivery customers deserve,” the letter reads, adding breads will now be distributed by Testa and Get Fresh produce companies.

There’s precedent for this: Gonnella Baking Co., known for furnishing French bread for Chicago’s Italian beef sandwiches (like Al’s Beef), ended fresh deliveries in February 2020, just weeks before the city first closed dining rooms due to COVID-19. The company now sells frozen breads that are baked at the restaurant using TurboChef ovens or other appliances.

Highland is a popular vendor among many Chicago restaurants, with its brioche buns, pretzel rolls, and slices appearing on menus all over town at spots like hip lounge Eleven Eleven in West Loop, J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop in Irving Park, and vegan diner Kal’ish in Uptown. At one point, the company had a stall selling sandwiches at the United Center.

For local restaurateurs, the change is further evidence that the pandemic’s impact on the industry is far from over. “I think [Highland is] another bellwether for post-COVID-19 misery,” Kal’ish co-owner Andy Kalish texts to Eater Chicago. “This is a real blow... I’ve been with some iteration of the company for 25 years.”

Founded in 1984, the company often fulfills custom orders by making breads to meet a chef’s specific needs for a particular dish or sandwich. The bakery also fills suburban Northbrook with the pleasing smell of bread rising in ovens. The company also has offered direct delivery in Southeastern Wisconsin, Northwestern Indiana, and Indianapolis, and ships frozen bread across the country. Direct deliveries will end on Saturday, September 4.

Gonnella, which made its move last year, was originally founded in 1886. The bakery’s owners predicted other companies would follow their example, and that the public needed to adjust to stigmas surrounding frozen bread. With Highland’s announcement, it looks like they were right.

In other news...

— The city of Chicago announced 27 the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a new $10 million program to spark retail improvements in commercial corridors on the South, West, and Southwest sides. The grants range from $49,000 to $1.7 million, according to a news release from the city. Among them are food-related business or restaurants who’ll get assistance on HVAC work, roofing repair, construction, and storefront buildout. Check out the list of food-related winners below:

  • Bitoy’s Sweet Treats, 5957 W. Chicago Avenue: $248,820
  • Bronzeville Wings, 4547 S. State Street, $250,000
  • Carnitas Uruapan, 3801 W. 26th Street: $250,000
  • ChiFresh Kitchen, 2049 E. 79th Street: $250,000
  • Cookies Cocktail Lounge, 1024 W. 79th Street, $236,125.27
  • Granados Cafe, 1845 W. 47th Street, $250,000
  • Hattie Marie BBQ, 825. 87th Street, $250,000
  • Heritage Club, 5951 W. Madison Street, $250,000
  • Jamaican Jerk Villa, 632-654 W. 79th Street: $250,000
  • Justice of the Pies, 2025 E. 75th Street, $250,000
  • La Casa de Samuel, 2836-38 W. Cermak Road: $160,050
  • Lior’s Cafe, 10500 S. Halsted Street, $250,000
  • Mikkey’s Retro Grill, 839 W. 79th Street: $171,637
  • Naty’s Pizza, 3849 W. 26th Street: $90,213
  • Nuevo Leon Bakery, 4062 W. 26th Street: $59,516
  • The Plant, 1400 W. 46th Street: $1.682,500
  • Pop That Pop on the Grove, 4424 S. Cottage Grove Avenue: $81,598.50
  • Reggio’s Pizza, 4438 S. Cottage Grove Avenue: $250,000
  • Restaurant Las Esperanzas, 1758 W. 47th Street: $49,500
  • SanJustins Kitchen, 157 W. 75th Street: $250,000
  • Taqueria Huentitan, 4019 W. North Avenue.: $81,675
  • Turkey Chop, 2911 E. 79th Street.: $166,971
  • Urban Luxe Cafe, 2139 W. Cermak Road: $154,200

— The James Beard Foundation, which will again host its awards next year in Chicago, has announced the recipients of its Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans. There are two winners from Illinois: Caribbean Grill in Champaign, and Rice Table in Chicago. Rice Table is run by Chris Reed, who (along with his mother, Priscilla) also operated a Creole/Dutch-Indonesian food stall at Politan Row food hall in West Loop. Reed says they’re using the grant toward growing their line of sambals and condiments. They’re saving some money to plot their future. Since the food hall closed, they’ve been working from a Goose Island ghost kitchen.

— Tock, the online restaurant reservation platform from Alinea Group co-founder Nick Kokonas and company, has signed a leased on new office space in Fulton Market, according to REBusinessOnline. They’re taking two floors inside 320 N. Sangamon Street. In March, Squarespace announced its acquisition of the company for $400 million.

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