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Restaurants: COVID-19 responses, tips and developments
2020-03-31

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With Illinois pretty much under lockdown through at least April 30, restaurants are doing what they can to help others—but it's also about people supporting culinary spots as well:

—James Beard Award-winning Prairie Grass Chef Sarah Stegner has opened a hotline to help people with cooking tips during the COVID-19 crisis. The telephone number for questions is 847-920-8437, and Stegner will be available daily at 2-4 p.m. CT.

—Epic Burger has launched a 50-percent discount for all active and furloughed hospitality workers and created a pop-up drive-thru. Also, employees voluntarily cut salaries to raise $20,000 for furloughed teammates.

—Some high-dining restaurants have temporarily tailored their to-go menus because of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Time Out Chicago reported that Alinea is using Tock to push out a weekly pickup menu. There's a three-course menu that includes beef shortrib Wellington, 50-50 mashed potatoes and creme brulee—for only $34.95/person. ( Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas also launched similar take-out options for the group's other fine-dining establishments Roister and Next. )

—Also, highbrow spot Temporis is offering "Dinner for Two," a prix-fixe offering for pickup and delivery ( on Caviar ), and gift cards are available. The dinner includes baby kale salad, braised beef shortrib and cheddar grits, and Jacquelyn's Awe-Inspiring Brownies.

—Readers can purchase gift cards from restaurants. As a press release from Stock and Ledger stated, " Buying gift cards from your local small businesses gives the owners the immediate revenue, and allows you to cash in on the treat when the threat of the virus has calmed. Whether given as a gift or kept for future meals, gift cards can act as a microloan to restaurants to provide a much-needed immediate cash infusion."

—Margarita-and-taco spot Big Star Wicker Park, 1531 N. Damen Ave., is giving away free meals for laid-off service industry workers at 5 p.m., Block Club Chicago noted. Until the quarantine period ends, or for as long as supplies last, Big Star will prepare 250 to-go dinners and bags of groceries on a nightly basis, seven days a week. Recipients should bring with them proper ID and paperwork, such as a pay stub, that proves they are a recent employee of a restaurant.

—The National Restaurant Association show and Sweets & Snacks Expo have been officially cancelled. Director of Communications Lauren O'Toole Boland said, "The cancellation is unavoidable due to a combination of factors including state and local stay-at-home orders and travel bans and restrictions from our member companies, retail partners and other attendee organizations."

—One of the northwest suburbs' biggest festivals, the annual Chocolate Fest in downtown Long Grove, has been canceled this year due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The event organizer, the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association, is postponing the annual celebration held in mid-May to 2021.

—Bar Biscay, Urbanbelly, Old Pueblo Cantina, Ranalli's and Gemini are among the spots offering cocktail kits and/or alcohol for pick-up and delivery.

—Korean-Mexican fast-casual concept Seoul Taco is offering pantry staples and specialty food items, as well as meal kits, at all locations. Seoul Taco's Chicagoland locations are offering the brand's entire menu for pick-up and delivery. Delivery is available via Caviar, DoorDash and UberEats.

—Chicago's CH Distillery joined other spots that are making hand sanitizer, Eater Chicago noted. It is donating bottles of hand sanitizer to hospitals, clinics and blood-donation centers that bear a familiar brand: Jeppson's Malort. Other distilleries taking part include Koval; Maplewood Brewery & Distillery; 28 Mile Vodka & Distillery, of Highwood; and Copper Fiddle Distillery, of Lake Zurich, The Chicago Tribune reported.

—Citing the need to ensure the safety of its guests and staff, the One Off Hospitality Group announced March 27 that it will curtail carryout and delivery service for its restaurants, The Chicago Tribune reported. Restaurants involved include Big Star, Publican Quality Meats, Pacific Standard Time and The Violet Hour.

—Ryan Close is the CEO of Bartesian, which allows people to stay in and make cocktails from home. Close will be donating 25 percent of net proceeds of product sales to support out-of-work bartenders through the United States Bartenders Guild Charity Foundation. See Bartesian.com .

—Steven Lindeman has started a GoFundMe campaign for the staff at Boystown venue Kit Kat Lounge. See GoFundMe.com/f/kit-kat-lounge-staff-relief-fund.

—Jet's Pizza—known for its Detroit-style deep dish, eight-corner pizza—currently has delivery and in-store employment opportunities available at the following locations: River North, 207 W. Superior St. ( 312-465-2280 ); Lakeview, 2811 N. Ashland Ave. ( 773-857-2080 ); West Loop, 1025 W. Madison St. ( 312-586-7290 ); Wicker Park/Bucktown, 1811 W. North Ave. ( 773-904-8283 ); and South Loop, 1144 S. Wabash Ave. ( 773-249-6508 ). Additionally, Jet's Pizza is offering all service workers in need a 30-percent online-only discount with discount code VIP.

—Bonhomme Hospitality Group launched a fundraiser for its employees. All proceeds will be donated to the nearly 400 Bonhomme employees; see BonhommeGroup.com .

—Cheesecake Factory has reportedly decided to not pay rent for April at any of the chain's locations because of business lost to the coronavirus pandemic, HuffPost reported. "The severe decrease in restaurant traffic has severely decreased our cash flow and inflicted a tremendous financial blow to our business," CEO David Overton wrote to landlords in a letter the Eater website obtained.


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