clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Some Restaurant Workers Are a Step Closer to Mandatory Vaccines

Plus, the Trib tells the story of the city’s oldest hot dog stand

Chicago Food Industry Locations Work To Vaccinate Work Force And Customer Base
The Pfizer vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

News broke Monday morning that the federal government has given full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, and there’s anticipation that this will provide employers — including restaurant owners — the legal standing to make the jabs mandatory for employment.

Offering safer environments is a way to protect workers and customers, enticing diners to bring their business to restaurants and bars that mandate the vaccine. While breakthrough cases do exist, health experts have stressed that the unvaccinated are the ones most responsible for the spread of delta. Vaccines also reduce the severity of the disease.

All three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — were given emergency approval from the Food and Drug Aministration. Now, Pfizer is the first to earn full approval and that opens the door for bosses to tell their employees to get the shots (with exemptions for those with medical issues or religious objections).

But, as restaurants and bars — and others in traditionally low-paying sectors — struggle to fill positions, it will be curious if many in the hospitality industry will pursue the requirements that, in theory, could reduce the pool of qualified applicants.

Back in May, Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas cited a lack of direction from federal and state governments in making vaccines mandatory for the staff at his restaurants. He added “if up to me I certainly would do so.”

In April, Fifty/50 Restaurant Group (Utopian Tailgate, Roots Pizza) began telling workers they needed to be vaccinated by July 15. Ownership felt confident that they would be legally protected from making the requirement. Anti-vaxxers began sending angry social media posts to ownership when news began to spread of the company’s policy.

Many of the larger companies, including Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Hogsalt, and One Off Hospitality, have yet to follow Fifty/50’s lead in making public declarations about requiring vaccines for workers. It’s a cycle that could lead to apathy — many smaller restaurants look up to these companies to set precedents, and don’t want to take actions of their own before the larger entities break the glass.

In the meantime, as Chicago brought back its mask mandate on Friday, suburban Cook County followed the city’s lead. Starting today, diners and bar patrons must wear masks while indoors.

And other news...

It’s been three months since the Tribune promoted writers Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger into their co-dining critic roles, and on Monday morning, Chu published her first column. The column is a departure from the restaurant reviews written by a traditional restaurant critic. Chu tells the story of the four generations of Black women who run Dave’s Red Hots, the 83-year-old hot dog stand on the West Side. It’s a story that most Chicagoans should known, and, hopefully, an example of where the new Trib food section is headed.

— Nini’s Deli has continued to use its social media platform to rail on Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community since reopening in July in Noble Square. The restaurant closed last year after ownership made a batch of bigoted comments in public, citing conservative Christian ideals. The numerous posts have pandered to fans (many who are also members of the same church as its owners). However, last week, the restaurant announced its food would be available via Grubhub. This is a curious alliance, given the comments from Nini’s ownership, as Grubhub has been vocal in its corporate support for both the LGBTQ community and Black Lives Matter. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police, Grubhub CEO Matt Maloney wrote: “Grubhub will always stand for inclusiveness and celebrate our diversity.”

— Logan Square pasta palace Daisies is starting weekday lunch service this week. It’s yet another pivot for Joe Frillman and company, who were among the first to embrace the general store concept (where stores ceded seating for retail space) last year when the pandemic first took hold. They’ve since added tables to the front dining room and put their Sunday markets on hold as they figure out the new landscape now that the delta variant has spread and the city has brought back the mask mandate. Lunch service starts Wednesday. As restaurants lack staff and are cutting hours of operation, Daisies’ news is a welcome development for those looking for an afternoon option in the middle of the week.

Lettuce Entertain You

5419 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 878-7340

The Delta

135 South 6th Avenue, , AZ 85701 (520) 524-3400 Visit Website

Utopian Tailgate

1608 North Wells Street, , IL 60614 (312) 210-7799 Visit Website


9 West Hubbard Street, , IL 60654 (312) 644-0004 Visit Website


1723 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 Visit Website

The General

2528 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 698-8754


2375 North Milwaukee Avenue, , IL 60647 (773) 697-9443 Visit Website