Chicago restaurants see a surplus of steak during COVID closures

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The meat glut stems from a lack of dine-in activity among customers of Northwest Meat restaurants, as consumers hunker down and wait for this latest wave of COVID to pass. Neva stocked up on produce in mid-December, preparing to supply meat to its customers for whatever parties they throw. Then, as the omicron variant picked up steam, cancellations started to happen and restaurants didn’t need as much meat.

“Our business has dropped,” Neva said. “Any product I have left, I keep and sell it over the next two months. It’s truly sad. We were doing very well and we had a lot of momentum.

Neva employees have also seen their hours reduced, to around 30 hours last week, from 40 before this latest wave.

The bright side ? Few restaurateurs worry about worsening supply problems, even as omicron outbreaks are causing meat plants across the country to cut slaughter capacity. But that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the overabundance.

Restaurant owners are hemorrhaging money on cancellations at a time when inflation has already sent the price of meat and seafood skyrocketing. The holidays are often the busiest time of year for restaurants. restaurants, and many have lost much of that business. January is not looking any better.

Argentinian West Loop restaurant El Che Steakhouse & Bar saw its idle beef pile up when it closed for the last two weeks of the year after staff members tested positive.

Most of El Che’s cuts of meat are dry-aged and may continue to age, said chef and owner John Manion. But not at all. The restaurant had stepped up for the holidays and ended up losing a few thousand dollars worth of beef.

Manion sold the remaining cuts through his retail operation — he converted the host stand into a small retail store in 2020 — but margins are much lower on raw beef sold direct to consumers. Manion estimates the shutdown for the last two weeks of December cost El Che about $140,000.

“We were heading into the last two weeks looking to be very profitable in the fourth quarter, and we weren’t,” he said.

El Che has reopened, but business remains slow.

Some restaurants, anticipating that more consumers would stay at home during the omicron wave, decided to temporarily close after the holidays.

Rye Deli + Drink, a restaurant two blocks south of El Che, closed for the winter, according to a post on its website. Gene & Georgetti is closed until Jan. 13, third-generation owner Michelle Durpetti said. The River North Steakhouse typically closes the first five days of the year for maintenance and has extended it this year. When it reopens, it will only serve dinner until the end of the month.

The temporary closure is a balancing act, however, Durpetti said. It saves on operating expenses, but stays closed too long and employees could find work elsewhere.

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