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Chicago’s All-Women Versa Fest Will Feature Food Lineup Chosen by ‘Top Chef’ Judge Gail Simmons

Plus, restaurant workers ask for more pandemic relief funds and Andersonville Midsommarfest returns

A woman in a black jacket sits at a table in front of a green bottle.
Gail Simmons will be choosing the chefs for Versa Fest in June.
Getty Images

Chicagoans are already gearing up for a busy festival season this summer as the omicron variant continues to wane and the city drops its mask and vaccine mandates for dining and drinking. While some organizers are preparing for a hopefully triumphant return, an entirely new event, Versa — touted as “the biggest women-led and women-powered” festival in 20 years, according to a rep — is poised to launch its inaugural celebration food, music, and comedy on June 11-12 at Lincoln Park’s South Fields.

Versa promises attendees five stages featuring a mix of prominent and up-and-coming musicians, performers, and speakers. Dining will be a component of the festival, as Top Chef judge and writer Gail Simmons has signed on to select women chefs from Chicago and across the country to create dishes for patrons to try. The Versa team is still in the mist of nailing down the lineup so a full list of participating chefs isn’t yet available, a rep says.

The music, however, seems to be fully fleshed out with artists including Ellie Goulding, Kim Petras, Liz Phair (a regular at Chicago’s Rainbo Club in the ‘90s), and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, as well as local star Jamila Woods, bounce queen Big Freedia, and many more. Comedy is also on the docket, with famous faces like Ilana Glazer of Broad City, Chelsea Handler, Dulcé Sloan, and Fortune Feimster, as well as speakers like feminist icon Gloria Steinem and writer Alok Vaid-Menon. Tickets and more details are available online.

Though Versa is new to Chicago, some of its players may be familiar to local live music fans: its production company, Austin-based Four Leaf Productions, is led by Charlie Jones, a co-founder of C3 Presents — the Live Nation-owned production company behind the city’s annual Lollapalooza music festival — and three other C3 alums, Shelley Phillips, Karly Tuckness and Courtney Fisher. Live Nation, the world’s largest event company, is highly controversial in the festival world, as the company has been linked to hundreds of deaths and injuries, including the tragic events last year at Astroworld, the Houston music festival starring Travis Scott that resulted in eight deaths.

Illinois restaurant workers ask Biden for more pandemic relief funds

The Illinois Restaurant Coalition delivered a letter to President Biden on Wednesday signed by 10,000 restaurant owners, employees, and suppliers requesting more federal pandemic relief funds, Axios reports. This is why they need help: Restaurant sales are at the lowest they’ve been since June 2021, restaurant worker unemployment is double the national average, the cost of food has gone up, and reservations in Chicago are 45 percent of what they were pre-pandemic. Customers, meanwhile, complain that it’s hard to get reservations, but that’s because restaurants are understaffed and can’t open at full capacity.

Andersonville Midsommarfest returns to Clark Street

Andersonville’s 56-year-old Midsommarfest and its traditional Maypole will be returning to Clark Street June 10-12 after a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce has announced. This year’s festival will extend three blocks longer than previous years’ and will have the usual mix of music, vendors, food, and kids’ activities. Aside from the usual Swedish fare from the Swedish American Museum, the food offerings are still a work in progress; the Chamber of Commerce is currently accepting applications.

A group of people holding drinks stops at a food stand to look at a display of sausages and sandwiches in baskets.
Andersonville Midsommarfest in 2019.
Timmy Samuel/Starbelly Studios

Potbelly plans world domination

Chicago-based sandwich chain Potbelly announced plans this week to expand to 2,000 locations nationwide, the Chicago Business Journal reports. Currently the company has 400 corporate-owned restaurants; 40 more are franchisee-operated. Potbelly reported a 30 percent increase in revenue over the past year after a pandemic slump. Today, survival. Tomorrow, the world (though this expansion would still put Potbelly 20,000 locations behind Subway).