Chicago COVID-19 cases continued cram during the weekend, and restaurants and bars across the city have responded by canceling reservations, reserving tests for workers and scheduling deep cleanings.
Restaurant staff perfected these routines in 2020, though optimists had hoped outright closures were in the rear view mirror thanks to vaccinations and other tools (such as contact tracing and apps that track potential exposures) that have given health officials and politicians a better way to deal with the pandemic.
The closures, coupled with the cloudy and cold conditions in Chicago that forced diners inside, created a sense of doubt within the city’s hotel community. As Lula Cafe owner and chef Jason Hammel illustrates in an Instagram story, restaurants are closing again, this time voluntarily, due to the unpredictability of the omicron variant and the sharp increase in cases over the past week.
Hammel himself temporarily closed Lula, a Logan Square landmark for 22 years, after workers tested positive. On the same Instagram story, he also started collecting ads from other restaurants and bars, including Scofflaw, the influential cocktail bar Logan Square, and Stephanie Izard and Boka Restaurant Group’s Little Goat Dinner and Cabra in the west loop. Rose Mary at Fulton Market is also closed until Tuesday to test workers. Last week, a series of anonymous boards claimed there had been an outbreak in the restaurant, a denied ownership claim. Before deciding to close, the property told Eater Chicago it was taking the proper precautions.
Other restaurants of note that have closed include Kumiko, Bacon, the native, Former Irving Brewery (which should reopen on Wednesday, according to the owners), Sepia, Sports club, SKY (although Monday, advertised property they reopened) the Exit, Billy Sunday (which is reopened after staff have tested negative, depending on the property), and Intentional superkhana (which is co-owned by Hammel). Giant, the popular New American restaurant in Logan Square also closed on Saturday and Sunday, although the Instagram post that announced the closure did not say if it was due to COVID. Last week Arami, a popular sushi restaurant in West Town, AO Tacos in Bronzeville and Steingold’s of Chicago in Lakeview all announced that they were temporarily closing. The length of the shutdowns varied, but since they were all voluntary, posts said they would only last a few days, until staff tests came back negative.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking announcement comes from Elske, the Scandinavian restaurant of husband and wife David and Anna Posey. The Michelin-starred restaurant West Loop was among the first to go into hibernation in 2020, remaining closed all winter in hopes of avoiding departures and stops due to pandemic challenges and state mandates. Restaurants can’t flip a switch and instantly reopen; they must find staff, order supplies, and muster the mental toughness to serve diners who might not be enthusiastic about wearing masks and / or treating employees with basic respect.
Elske remained closed from October 2020 to April, but closed again in June due to staff issues. The Poseys reopened on December 8, but now, due to “potential exposure to COVID,” they have closed again. Sunday article on the restaurant’s Instagram account says the owners hope to reopen on Dec. 29, “after a short hiatus and many negative test results, or maybe never again.” Accompanying the legend is a Bob’s burgers-drawing inspired by Posey with their baby and their dog reading “grand re-re-re-opening”.
“I’m worried,” says Ajit Kalra, co-owner of Bhoomi Modern Indian Grill, a food stand inside the Urbanspace Food Hall in downtown Chicago.
Kalra anticipates an increase in catering orders for Christmas and New Years Eve, as some diners may be unsure of what to eat inside when omicron is present. But, at the same time, Kalra believes the country is not doing enough to tackle the spread of COVID-19: “I think if we did a better job as a city or county to protect ourselves, we could is running successful businesses that would simply adapt to a different model.
Kalra’s co-owner and wife Sukhu Kalra on Sunday suggested rolling out meal kits next week to reduce contact between staff and customers. Last year, many restaurants offered meal kits for the same reason.
Despite the uncertainty and closures across town, Bhoomi had its busiest Saturday last weekend thanks to shoppers at the nearby Christkindlmarket Holiday Market on Daley Plaza. Ajit Kalra says customers would escape to the dining room to avoid the cold and wind, and eat inside: “I haven’t seen a takeout all day.
Health experts say January could see one of the biggest peaks in cases of COVID-19. At the same time, the country has better resources and tools to weather difficult times. For businesses and restaurants, there is a better understanding of consumer behavior. The owners have real data on how the delivery and delivery work.
And there are services to help them manage their delivery activities: for example, last week Bhoomi started appearing on Tock, the booking portal which in 2020 has pivoted and grown to be a platform. – delivery form. Ajit Kalra also says they will focus more on delivery. The use of delivery during the pandemic became a hot topic in 2020 with Chicago politicians, as in August, the city filed separate lawsuits against DoorDash and Grubhub for allegedly deceptive practices.
“People won’t want to stop eating,” says Kalra. “If anything, they want to enjoy even more of the food prepared for them during the pandemic. “