In Chicago restaurants, the Christmas decorations are coming down, only to be replaced with signage procured from the city’s health department warning customers that COVID vaccinations are required if they want to dine indoors.
The city’s vaccine mandate went into effect Monday morning requiring full vaccination of diners, drinkers, and staff anywhere food and drink might be served. Workers can opt out if they agree to submit to weekly testing. After Chicago announced its mandate on December 21, suburban Cook County followed.
Enforcement is the name of the game, ownership at public venues — a group that includes bars, restaurants, theaters, music and sports venues, and fitness centers — will have to figure out how to ask patrons for their records. Politics also plays a part in this: in suburban Orland Park, the village board voted to defy the Cook County mandate, just as it did when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide mask mandate in 2020, arguing that it’s government overreach. Meanwhile Oak Park and Evanston (which are also in Cook County) and Highland Park (which is in Lake County) have backed the county’s order.
The vaccine extends to everyone age 5 and older at all venues that serve food or drink. If customers are picking up food and plan to be indoors for 10 minutes or less, they’re not subjected to the mandate (that clause will apparently keep third-party delivery couriers, such as DoorDash and Grubhub drivers, exempt). Customers aged 16 and older will have to show proof of vaccination in either print or digital form, plus photo ID.
But instead of immediately dealing with the mandate, many restaurants are taking an extended winter break. Others, including Lola’s Coney Island in Humboldt Park, Janik’s Cafe in Wicker Park, Tacotlán in Hermosa, and Baker Miller in Lincoln Square (which, before the holidays, had announced it would require proof of a booster shot for dine-in customers) have closed their dining rooms and pivoted back to takeout-only.
After holiday celebrations, January is typically a slow month in Chicago for restaurants: Folks enter a nesting mode and many establish New Year’s resolutions, such as Dryuary, the practice of keeping sober for the month and avoiding taverns.
Restaurant owners cite the surge in COVID cases and exposure among workers and resulting staffing issues as further reasons for the shift. It’s also a way to navigate ever-changing guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which recently reduced the quarantine period for COVID patients from 10 days to five, the same as the quarantine period for people who have been exposed to the virus (though, the CDC still recommends strict mask use for the unvaccinated). Waits for COVID test results have also gotten longer, due to increased demand, which prevents people from returning to work.
There will be an adjustment period. But in other cities like New York and San Francisco that enacted mandates months ago, checking for a vaccine has become as routine as asking if a customer is 21 at a bar. Some have pointed out that cities with vaccine mandates, specifically New York, have seen massive COVID surges, and argue that’s a sign that it’s a failed policy. At the December news conference when she announced the new mandate, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that when New York created its policy, there was no way to account for the omicron variant. How many cases did those mandates prevent, she asked, and how much worse could the surge have been?
A new generation of Chicago chefs explores the possibilities of Italian beef
Chicagoans are intimately acquainted with the soggy, meaty delights of the Italian beef sandwich — an iconic local street food often mentioned as one of the city’s quintessential foods, alongside deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. While many Italian beef adherents cling to tradition, the New York Times last week surveyed a slew of new approaches to Italian beef, largely influenced by the city’s immigrant communities. These include a take featuring longanisa sausage from Filipino smash-hit Kasama in West Town, a banh mi-inspired spin called the Pho Dip from Phodega in Wicker Park, and a vegan version with thin slices of soy protein from area mini-chain Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat.
Soup & Bread community meals return to the Hideout
Soup & Bread, which has been providing pay-what-you-can community meals of, yes, soup and bread at the Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Avenue) to benefit local food pantries since 2009, will return from its pandemic hiatus on January 19, albeit in truncated form. Instead of operating every Wednesday, it will now be one Wednesday a month, and the $10 meals will be takeout only (preorder here). But local chefs will still be providing their vegetarian soup recipes — which will be prepared by Ethan Fischer of Urban Canopy — and the bread will be donated by Middlebrow. Proceeds from the first meal, from a recipe by Logan Square icon Lula Cafe, will benefit Soup for the Soul at the Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale.
Andersonville’s sober tea cafe introduces samosas from Tasting India
Eli Tea Bar, the new LGBTQ-friendly tea cafe that last month opened to great fanfare in Andersonville, is already tapping into local talent and forging a partnership with popular virtual restaurant Tasting India. Eli’s customers can now snag piping hot samosas from chef Jasmine Sheth at 5507 N. Clark Street, according to an Instagram post. The Andersonville cafe is the brand’s second location (the original is in suburban Detroit), and first in Chicago.
Passion House founder wins entrepreneurship award
Josh Millman, founder and CEO of Passion House Coffee, was awarded the Spirit of Entrepreneur award by the Garfield Park Chamber, Cook County Black Chamber and Illinois Black Chamber in their 2021 Best of the Best Business and Leadership Awards, distributed last month, the Daily Herald reports. The 10-year-old coffee company has a roastery in East Garfield Park and cafes in Logan Square and Goose Island.