CHICAGO — Husband and wife team Anna and David Posey recently sat down to come up with a plan for their West Loop restaurant, Elske, ahead of winter.
Their options, in their opinion, were close for the winter, bringing meals indoors or only offering take-out – either consistently or “here and there”.
It’s a decision Chicago restaurant and bar owners are forced to make as the city battles the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout, and especially as temperatures begin to drop.
In the end, the couple opted for the first option: Elske’s last day was Sunday. The restaurant at 1350 W. Randolph St. will remain closed for the winter. The owners plan to reopen in the spring.
Elske is one of a growing group of Chicago restaurants choosing to close for the winter and reopen in the spring, when it’s warm enough for patio season to resume. Chicago’s Ballast Point Brewery and Politan Row food hall — both in Fulton Market — and Dove’s Lucheonette in Wicker Park all have the same plan.
Restaurant owners said the move would save them money and keep customers and staff safe. There are fewer risks associated with outdoor dining compared to indoor dining.
Anna Posey said indoor dining “didn’t seem safe for our employees or safe for our customers”.
“It really made sense for us to shut down and hibernate,” she said.
“It’s just not doable”
Anna and David Posey own the West Loop building that houses Elske, who has made a name for himself in the foodie world since opening in 2016.
By closing for an extended period, both will save on basic utilities, garbage and recycling maintenance, refrigeration and other expenses that add up, Anna Posey said.
The temporary closure also made financial sense for Elske as the Michelin-starred restaurant saved money and enjoyed success this summer despite the pandemic.
“We were blessed with a really good patio season,” Posey said. “With takeout and patio dining, we matched what we would have done last year.”
Posey said they hadn’t “seriously considered” setting up pods to extend the outdoor dining season like other West Loop restaurants.
She said the air circulation in the igloos seemed “a bit dodgy” and the patio tents cannot be heated, which could make the experience uncomfortable for guests.
“We have a two-hour tasting menu. It’s not like you get a pizza and a beer. It’s quite an experience. It just seemed like it wouldn’t work for us,” she said.
Still, the decision to remain closed for months was a difficult one. Posey said the hardest part was saying goodbye to their trusted staff, “not knowing what they’re going to do and wishing them good luck”. Elske had a small team of nine throughout the pandemic.
But Posey said she was confident they would be able to bring staff back when Elske reopens in the spring.
“We’re going to be looking forward to it,” she said.
Not far from Elske, Chicago’s Ballast Point Brewery, 212 N. Green St., also temporarily closed due to the coronavirus and the economic downturn.
“Unfortunately, like so many other bars and restaurants in Chicago due to COVID, we are unable to serve enough customers to cover our costs,” Brendan Watters, CEO of Ballast Point Brewing Company, said in an email. -mail.
“With winter coming, it will get worse before it gets better. That said, we have an obligation to reopen and we will.
Watters said the plan is to reopen the brewery “when the weather is favorable and it is safe to dine indoors”. Ballast Point locations in Southern California will remain open.
Unlike Elske, which is housed in a building owned by the Poseys, Ballast Point is obligated to pay rent during the shutdown, Watters said. But the brewery will save money by eliminating operating expenses “at a time when our ability to generate revenue has been significantly impacted due to COVID-19,” he said.
“It’s just not possible to carry both financially given the upcoming winter months and the ability to generate revenue which is significantly impacted due to COVID-19,” Watters said.
Fulton Market’s food hall, Politan Row, which shares a building with McDonald’s headquarters, faces the same challenges.
Politan Group, the team behind the food hall at 111 N. Aberdeen St., recently announced that it will remain closed all winter and reopen in March or April.
The Politan Group has told suppliers there won’t be enough customers to sustain the business this winter, especially with McDonald’s not yet having employees at its headquarters.
“The bottom line is that the population to support your businesses will not be present during the winter months, which I think this year will make it unreasonably difficult for everyone,” Politan Group wrote in a statement. E-mail.
Across town, in Wicker Park, the tex-mex restaurant Dove’s Lucheonette, 1545 N. Damen Ave., is also hibernating for the winter.
The restaurant, run by One Off Hospitality, did not respond to requests for comment, but posted on its website: “To our neighbors and guests, as we prepare for cooler weather, we will be taking a temporary break at Dove’s.
“Don’t worry, we can’t imagine Wicker Park without our little luchonette and we’ll be back as soon as we can safely offer you our cozy 41-seat restaurant again.”
One Off Hospitality Group owns and operates several popular restaurants in Chicago, including, The Publican, Big Star and The Violet Hour, all of which will remain open this winter.
Chicago’s established and fledgling restaurants are in crisis mode without more government assistance.
Posey said in conversations with friends in the restaurant industry that she discovered many restaurant owners were using their savings to keep their restaurants afloat.
“If restaurants don’t have money in the bank, I don’t really know what they do. It’s scary,” she said.
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