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South Side Collaborations Help Chicago’s Black-Owned Restaurants Stay Viable Through Pandemic Changes

Plus, anti-plasticware ordinance goes into effect and workers at two more Starbucks petition to unionize

Three people holding up a white container full of food inside a food hall.
Majani, chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel’s vegan restaurant, is among the members of FoodLab Chicago.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago restaurateurs are making long-term changes to their business models as shifting mandates and widespread worker shortages have reinforced the importance of takeout and delivery. For those who didn’t start out with user-friendly websites with ordering features, touch-free menus with QR codes, or appropriate packaging to keep food hot while it travels, the shift can be a confusing and expensive endeavor.

Enter FoodLab Chicago, a collaborative project that offers technical aid and financial assistance to restaurants like smoked meat icon Lem’s Bar-B-Q and longtime staple Soul Veg City on Chicago’s South Side, a swath of the city that’s often disproportionately impacted by economic instability.

An offshoot of FoodLab Detroit, the local operation is a joint effort among the Greater Chatham Initiative, South Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, according to the Tribune. Among its members is Majani, chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel’s vegan restaurant mini-chain with locations in South Shore and Pullman. In November, Emmanuel told Eater that his restaurants were facing significant challenges, including a lack of visibility in the area compared to corporate-owned counterparts like newish fast-food outpost Culver’s.

Many of the Chicago lab’s members are Black small business owners — a population that were five times more likely to be denied Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funds, early reports from a Federal Reserve Banks survey show. The discrepancy has prompted other endeavors targeted at these financially-strapped operators, including a slew of new micro grants from local nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City, according to Block Club Chicago. Online applications are due today — Wednesday, January 19 — for $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000 grants.

New anti-plastic ordinance goes into effect in Chicago restaurants

A new ordinance went into effect in Chicago yesterday that prohibits single-use utensils from being automatically included with takeout orders (and accumulating in junk drawers all over the city). Customers can still get their plastic cutlery, chopsticks, stirrers, and napkins if they request them. The measure was passed by the city council in September in an effort to reduce plastic waste, but some critics said it didn’t go far enough and that it should have banned styrofoam takeout containers, too. The ordinance applies only to “fixed locations” like bars and restaurants, but not to drive-thrus or airports, where customers wouldn’t have their own utensils handy. WTTW has a full rundown.

Workers at two more Chicago-area Starbucks locations join the union drive

Hourly workers at two more Chicago-area Starbucks locations have filed petitions to unionize, Starbucks Workers United announced on Twitter last Friday. The two cafes are at 55th and Woodlawn in Hyde Park and in downtown LaGrange. In open letters to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, the organizing committees at both locations said they were unionizing for better pay and benefits and safer working conditions. This brings the total number of Starbucks union drives in Chicago to four.

Cheba Hut raises money to smoke out injustice

Cheba Hut, the cannabis-themed sandwich shop with locations in Wicker Park and Wrigleyville, will be holding a fundraiser tomorrow, January 20, for the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit dedicated to freeing people who are still serving prison terms for cannabis possession. One dollar from the sale of every sandwich will go to the Last Prisoner Project, and Cheba Hut’s corporate headquarters will match donations.

A beloved sommelier needs help with medical bills

A GoFundMe launched last weekend on behalf of sommelier Joe Fiely, owner of Joe’s Imports Wine Bar in Fulton Market, has raised more than $50,000 for the operator who is battling stage four cancer and needs help paying hospital and home healthcare bills. Fiely, a former accountant who discovered the power of wine on a trip to Tuscany, entered the Chicago restaurant scene more than 30 years ago as a consultant for the opening of SCOOZI, Lettuce Entertain You’s Italian spot, and then went on to become the wine director for Francesca’s Restaurant Group (now Scott Harris Hospitality), which now has eight different concepts nationwide. “You can’t turn a stone over in Chicago’s restaurant scene and not find someone whose life Joe hasn’t touched,” Fiely’s friends write on the GoFundMe page, which has already surpassed its $50,000 goal.

Starbucks

4365 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60641 (773) 736-5226 Visit Website

Lem's Bar-B-Q

311 East 75th Street, , IL 60619 (773) 994-2428 Visit Website

Joe’s Imports Wine Bar

813 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

Cheba Hut Wicker Park

1950 W. Division Street, Chicago, IL 60622 Visit Website

Majani Restaurant

7167 South Exchange Avenue, , IL 60649 (773) 359-4019 Visit Website

Soul Veg City

203 East 75th Street, , IL 60619 (773) 224-0104 Visit Website

Lettuce Entertain You

5419 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640

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