The pandemic has compelled us to rethink and reset our lives and businesses. For restaurants, this has meant a pivot, a different way of doing business.
Chef Joe Frillman of Daisies has initiated a number of pivots, so we asked him which innovations will remain in place. “All of them,” Frillman says. “We’re going to keep all of them. The first thing we did was build out the farmers market in the backroom to help sell produce from my brother’s farm. From there we started to invite other farmers and local folks—like Catalpa Grove, the Beautiful Rind cheese shop down the street, and Publican—to offer their products in our space. Our indoor farmers market is going to stay. And we never did lunch before—we just did dinner and brunch—but we started offering lunch during the pandemic, and it’s working out so well that we’re thinking of extrapolating our lunch service to a brick-and-mortar setup. Also, before this, we didn’t do any delivery because we didn’t think our food, like fresh pasta, would travel well, but that turned out to be not the case. Now, if we have a slow night, we can turn on the DoorDash or GrubHub delivery option, just for that one night. So, if, for instance, we have a huge snowstorm and reservations are being cancelled, we can still sell our food.”
For Chef Billy Caruso, isolation provided the time to refine techniques he would put into practice at his recently opened Rye Deli & Drink: “When the pandemic started and everything closed down, I was in the kitchen by myself, so I just did R&D for three or four months. I was able to get into making bagels, and that can be one of the most frustrating things. There are so many variables, and I wanted to use heirloom wheat and after a few months of playing with ratios and different starters, I got it to work.”
Last summer, Newcity covered the rise of Blue Blazer, a cocktail production, packaging and delivery service that allows third parties to transport mixed drinks to customers. Although Blue Blazer was founded last year by Joe Kreeger and his team, this year has provided an unexpected boost to their business: “This year created several obstacles for Chicago’s hospitality industry,” Kreeger says, “but oftentimes, adversity is the driver of innovation. We launched Blue Blazer in 2019 with the intention of bringing our favorite cocktails into people’s homes while creating an additional revenue source for restaurants. When the pandemic hit, we realized it could become a lifeline to keep these businesses afloat. Our cocktails not only generate immediate, profitable sales for restaurants, but cocktails allow them to complete the full restaurant experience through to-go programs. It’s been amazing to watch Blue Blazer develop into an asset for these iconic destinations and establish partnerships that we believe will last long after restrictions are lifted.”
Danny Park, food and beverage director at Café Robey, says that working through “really brought a deeper level of closeness within the team. We are most definitely checking in with each other more frequently, helping if needed, and just in general focusing a little more on our day-to-day lives outside of work. I know I have learned so much more about what some people’s passions are, what hobbies they recently took up, and it simply just feels good to know that your second family is healthy and doing well.”
Cleetus Friedman (City Provisions, Fountainhead and hospitality director at Camp Aramoni), has found that the pandemic has strengthened family ties: “The best thing to come out of this is how close our family became. It’s the greatest thing that could have happened. We cooked together, talked together. And my wife and I have had dinner together every single night. That could not have happened without the pandemic.”
Beyond the family, this time has inspired some of us to think in larger terms about why we are here and what we should be doing. At Virtue, Chef Erick Williams says, “If this past year of trials has taught us anything, it’s been to have a greater intent in our everyday lives—that includes how we manage, sustain and grow our businesses. We’ve seen a lot of hardships in 2020 that have personally inspired me—and my entire team—to focus on advocacy. This year taught us the importance of using the platform we are given to advocate for equity, inclusion and justice.”
No one is going to say that the pandemic was a good thing, but like war and other catastrophes, it’s possible to see that some good has—and will—emerge from this worldwide disaster.
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org