A's List: Awesome ways you can help the local dining community during the COVID-19 crisis

By Audarshia Townsend

COVID-19’s got everyone in a flux as they, at the same time, try to help our country’s most vulnerable citizens. The restaurant industry, for instance, with its razor-thin margins and many employees who work minimum wage or tip-reliant positions, is one of the most vulnerable.

Many operators are super anxious as most states throughout the country have closed restaurants for in-house dining at least through the end of March. One of the solutions to help keep the restaurants going through this difficult period is to allow them to accommodate curbside, delivery and takeout orders.  

During the COVID-19 crisis, Chicago’s restaurant community is being extremely proactive—knowing that it’s not enough to just be open for business—and creative to drive business. From several online initiatives building strong networks within the industry to virtual programming to keep folks entertained and informed, here are some of the most notable in which you can participate.

Fat Rice transforms into Fat Rice Community Relief Kitchen to help local 
restaurant workers with more than 400 meal kits. (Photo: Galdones Photography)

INITIATIVES

Dining at a Distance. As a direct response to the #socialdistancing movement, this initiative started in Chicago and now has spread to the likes of Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, D.C., San Francisco and even Berlin, Germany. Operators are encouraged to post their information, including type of service (delivery/takeout/curbside), delivery services (GrubHub, UberEats, etc.) and website. You can use this aggregator to find exactly what you’re looking for, and it even lets you know if you can order directly from the establishment or from a third-party service. You can use the site to order family meals, pantry items (Eden, Pisolino are doing this), alcoholic beverages, gift cards and more. A section to support farmers will also be added to the site.

The #takeoutchicago and #takeoutchiburbs challenges. The social media project encourages diners to order takeout meals and post to social media with photos of meals, the hastag and a challenge to friends to do the same.

Rally for Restaurants. Here’s a chance to buy gift cards sold by your favorite restaurant from yet another site started in Chicago. Rally for Restaurants aggregates restaurants offering gift cards by city, and you can buy them directly from the site. They have no expiration date, and some will allow you to post up to $3,000 on them for future meals.

Fat Rice Community Relief Kitchen. Fat Rice owners Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo have transformed their restaurant into a haven for local restaurant workers by providing 400 meal kits with a “pay what you can” suggested donation. Each kit varies (i.e. tofu/vegetable soup, pork meatloaf with woodear mushrooms) and supplies three meals each for two people. It’s also a chance to assist those who haven’t had a chance to self-quarantine yet. Those interested in obtaining a kit may order directly from the restaurant right here.

Good People Collective. A generous group of South Side business, religious and community leaders has collaborated to provide help for various people in dire need. One hundred percent of the money raised benefits local hospitality workers, provides groceries and home supplies for the elderly, and financially assists displaced college students. In its brief existence, the collective has already paid the day wages for two employees at Two Fish in Bronzeville.

Acadia. As like other restaurants, Acadia owner/chef Ryan McCaskey features a limited bar menu for curbside pickup. That occurs 4-8pm Tuesday through Saturday. Then on Saturdays, restaurant industry employees are encouraged to stop by 1-3pm to take advantage of the establishment's free market. There will be proteins, canned goods, dry goods, dairy, produce, etc. 

Common Pantry. This North Side organization is working hard to ensure its clients receive the emergency food items they need. It's also an opportunity for Common Pantry to help restaurants and their staff as clients will also receive gift cards for takeout meals. Some of the participating restaurants include Luella's Southern Kitchen, Kitsch'n on Roscoe and a few others. The organization is also accepting donations from the public.

Chicago Hospitality United. In its first three days of promotion of its "Love One Another" t-shirt, Stock Manufacturing Co. raised more than $75,000 for Chicago Hospitality United, which helps unemployed workers during the shutdown of restaurants. One hundred percent of proceeds benefits the non-profit organization. They've now teamed up with Land and Sea Department (Cherry Circle Room, Longman & Eagle, Parson's, etc.) for even more merchandise, which includes more t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and bumper stickers. Those proceeds will also benefit the organization.

Hinsdale Humane Society. Happening in Hinsdale is an initiative helping their area restaurants as well as animals that need forever owners. They're teaming up with pizza parlors like Lucca's Pizzeria & Ristorante (LaGrange) and DiLeo's Pizzeria (Elmhurst)and looking for others—to include flyers with the pizza boxes delivered, or used for takeout orders, to customers. The aim is to drive business to the restaurants and get "quarantine buddies" for home-bound folks. 

 
Ina Mae Tavern chef Brian Jupiter will host an Instagram live cooking class to
keep the cooped-up engaged during The Great Self-Quarantine of 2020.
(Photo: Ina Mae Tavern)

VIRTUAL PROGRAMMING

FitzGerald's Nightclub. Get ready for an influx of live-streaming concerts. First up is FitzGerald’s, which will host a benefit show in partnership with Shout Section Big Band and WDCB-FM from 6 to 9pm CST March 22. The proceeds will go to the band, who will have a “donate now” clickable option alongside the stream.

Prairie Grass Café. The seasoned, James Beard Award-winning chef Sarah Stegner has opened a hotline to help people with food preparation and cooking tips during the COVID-19 crisis. It runs 2-4pm CST daily, and callers can ask her just about anything, from how to properly roast a chicken to what to pair with root vegetables to what to do with your leftovers.

Ina Mae Tavern. Those craving Nashville hot chicken should join chef Brian Jupiter for his first-ever Instagram Live cooking class. He’ll be featuring Ina Mae’s famed Nashville hot chicken po’boy in all its glory, and you’ll have a front-row seat. It takes place 6pm March 23 @inamaetavern on Instagram. You can pick up the ingredients curbside at the restaurant—as well as a six-pack of beer—when you email jen@pioneertaverngroup.com.

Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club. If you’re running out of ideas to entertain yourself at home, tune in at 1pm CST every Sunday as the highly revered drag shows at this quirky eatery set up shop on Facebook Live. For example, Madame X will be performing as Lady Gaga and Luke Holbrok will shake up original cocktails like the Quarantine made with vodka, pomegranate juice and an Emergency C packet.

See previous A's List columns right here.

 

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