Two people who never met or communicated until Sunday have collaborated on Chicago’s largest and most comprehensive list of restaurants that offer take-out and delivery to keep things going, as dining rooms in the Illinois remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote dinner is a Chicago-born directory of restaurants that serve food for offsite consumption. The site, which launched on Monday, brought together two people who, before speaking over the weekend, were working independently on their own lists.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in the state has risen to 288, with 128 new cases reported. To reduce the risk of spread, Governor JB Pritzker has closed all restaurant and bar dining areas. To survive the two-week mandate, restaurants have turned to takeout and delivery. But not everyone knows about these offers.
That’s where remote dining comes in, as the list already has more than 1,050 restaurants in Chicago, letting people know if they offer delivery, takeout, or curbside service. The effort was so well received that they created strong directories for other cities, places like Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco. Berlin, Germany is also live. They are looking for people from those markets who would be willing to keep the directories up to date.
Dining at Distance is in part by Jenn Galdes, a longtime public relations professional who has worked with restaurants. Saturday morning, before the state forced restaurants to close their dining rooms, she reached out to several of her former customers. People like Ryan McCaskey (Acadia), Michael Roper (Hopleaf), Emmanuel Nony (Proxi, Sepia), Martial Noguier (Bistronomic) and Debbie Sharpe (Goddess & the Grocer) provided advice.
Galdes reflected, as others have, on ways to tell the public that despite the closure, they can still eat food from their favorite restaurant. Places like Virtue in Hyde Park and SKY in Pilsen have started offering take-out orders. They join other restaurants, large and small, across the city to try to find new sources of income.
She tweeted her idea and TV host Elliott Bambrough (The best of Chicago) introduced Galdes to Sean Lynch. Lynch and his wife recently returned to Chicago after 10 years in the Washington, DC area. Their strong supporters in the restaurant industry and Lynch’s experience in digital products made them an ideal partner, bridging Galdes’ experiences in the sector. One of Lynch’s passions is creating digital resources that connect communities. His past work includes connecting 100,000 Jewish teenagers online. His wife, Marina Rostein, worked with OneTable. When he first spoke with Galdes, he had already set up the site.
“My passion is solving problems,” Lynch said.
With Dining at Distance, they have given Chicago one of the most comprehensive resources in America. And they are aware of the challenges. One is to make sure the list is comprehensive and goes beyond normal spheres of influence. They wanted to make sure that all restaurants were represented, both in cuisine types and geographically. It was by chance that a representative from Chowbus, a platform that offers delivery and pickup orders at many Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, reached out to Galdes and Lynch in hopes of being included. Local chambers have also reached out to help ensure better diversity.
“We try to make sure there’s broad representation because that’s what makes up our community,” Galdes said.
Another challenge mentioned by Lynch and Galdes is the additional competition faced by smaller restaurants that are already geared towards takeout and delivery, as more and more restaurants – even Michelin-starred ones – enter their territory. to keep their kitchens open.
They managed to find someone to update their next site in New York, but are looking for people in other cities in North Carolina, Ohio and Massachusetts. Eventually, they will add a charity component and they also hope to enlist national businesses – chains, distributors and media – to help support the site for as long as this outbreak lasts.
Those interested in working on updating their city’s site can contact Galdes and Lynch online.