Despite the lingering pandemic and a labor shortage that has affected most restaurants, two of Chicago’s best-known restaurateurs have enough confidence in Chicago’s food scene to consider expanding.
On Thursday, The Girl and the Goat’s Stephanie Izard, and Sunda owner Billy Dec attended the American Cancer Society’s Taste of Hope fundraiser in River West and spoke to the Sun-Times about how they survived the pandemic and their plans. moving forward.
For Izard, who has become a national food celebrity by winning “Top Chef” on Bravo and “Iron Chef Gauntlet” on Food Network, in addition to having recently opened a second Girl and the Goat in Los Angeles, it means a new addition. to her “Goat” Family this spring.
“We have another project that we will be announcing soon here in Chicago. It will open in the spring, but we haven’t announced it yet, ”said Izard.
For Dec, a serial entrepreneur, the Chicago expansion means another Sunda location will open at Fulton Market in the spring. Additionally, Dec will open a Sunda location in Tampa and plans to open its Southeast Asian flagship in other cities across the country shortly thereafter.
“I really believed the world was going to recover and I believed in Chicago. I felt we had to cut against the grain and expand rather than play defense, ”said Dec.
Although the two intend to grow their food empires, they both acknowledged that the pandemic has taken its toll.
“It stopped us,” Dec said. “2020 has been a tough year for all restaurateurs. … That ended so many restaurants and we could easily have been one of them.
He added that in addition to the financial toll of the closure, he had lost personal items during the unrest in the summer of 2020.
“We were looted, some of my family heirlooms were crushed in Sunda,” he said.
For Izard, hard times forced her to lay off dozens of workers at her four Chicago restaurants, state documents show. The layoff notices, required by state law, said 55 people would lose their jobs at Girl & the Goat, Izard’s flagship product, with another 96 layoffs at spinoff restaurant / bakery Little Goat. The Chinese restaurant Duck Duck Goat laid off 42 employees and 85 others were made redundant by the company that runs its Cabra cevicheria.
Despite this, all of Izard’s restaurants have survived – something she attributes to a combination of strong partners, downscaling, and the fact that Chicagoans really support the restaurants they love.
“My partners have been very supportive and made sure we were able to get through this,” she said. “It’s always better to be in Chicago as a restaurateur. It’s just a big city and the patrons have supported restaurants throughout.
Dec echoed Izard’s sentiments, saying what sets the city apart from other more fleeting places are its deep roots.
“Growing up in Chicago, living in Chicago, I think you are built to withstand trauma. You know you come from a story where the city burned down and was able to rebuild itself, so you know it’s in your genes, ”Dec said.
Izard said her restaurants are currently operating at full capacity, but like most restaurateurs, she has struggled to find enough workers.
“Staffing is a bit of a challenge, but you have to pivot a bit and restructure yourself to run your business a bit lighter,” she said. “We’re operating at full capacity right now, but our menus have a few less items. There is a way to get by with a slightly lighter team, but most of the time things go well.
Dec said he believes he avoided staffing issues because of the goodwill created by his Sunda department – a program where his restaurant fed hotel workers who were laid off once a week.
“We started to feed 100 people per week in the hospitality industry and sometimes it grew to 500 people. It helped keep the family together and created new relationships and maybe goodwill with others to the point where a lot of people were drawn to the team, ”said Dec.
Izard summed it up by saying, “Chicagoans love food.”