Mayor wants de­signs for pro­mot­ing win­ter out­door din­ing

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY DAVID ROEDER, BUSI­NESS & LA­BOR RE­PORTER droeder@suntimes.com | @Roed­erDavid

Deep-dish pizza in a deep freeze? Pulled pork for a po­lar vor­tex? Or maybe saganaki in a snow­storm?

Mayor Lori Light­foot wants to in­tro­duce Chicagoans to the pleasures of win­ter out­door din­ing. Mind­ful that COVID-19’s hold on the city might rule out crowded restau­rant din­ing rooms when cold weather hits, Light­foot an­nounced a de­sign com­pe­ti­tion Tues­day for ways the whole ex­pe­ri­ence can be taken out­side, wind­chills be damned.

“We are ask­ing our com­mu­nity mem­bers to come to­gether and think cre­atively about how we can make out­door din­ing fea­si­ble in the win­ter,” Light­foot said.

So the city has part­nered with the de­sign firm IDEO, the Illi­nois Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion and BMO Har­ris Bank, which is putting up a $5,000 prize for win­ners in each of three de­sign cat­e­gories. Two en­vi­sion an out­door struc­ture, free­stand­ing or at­tached to a build­ing, to pro­vide some shel­ter. The third cat­e­gory is bravely la­beled “cul­tural shifts mak­ing win­ter din­ing more ap­peal­ing.”

En­tries for the Win­ter De­sign Chal­lenge can be submitted through Sept. 7 at IDEO’s web­site, and win­ners will be an­nounced in mid-Septem­ber af­ter re­view by a panel of com­mu­nity mem­bers and res­tau­ra­teurs.

Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, said the con­test seeks to start with ideas for domes or tents and go deeper. “Part of this is be­hav­ioral and cul­tural,” he said.

He said Scan­di­na­vian cities and places such as Toronto have em­braced win­ter out­door din­ing. Will Chicagoans do it so restau­rants can get around in­door ca­pac­ity lim­its that might still ap­ply be­cause of the pan­demic?

“There has been a tremen­dous amount of be­hav­ioral change be­cause of the pan­demic,” Mayekar said. “It’s why Chicago has one of the most open economies of any big city in the coun­try.”

Asked if the con­test is an ad­mis­sion that COVID-19 is stick­ing around, Mayekar cited in­creas­ing caseloads in Illi­nois and around the U.S. “We need to plan that the cur­rent sta­tus quo may be with us for many months,” he said.

Mayekar said in ad­di­tion to BMO Har­ris’ funds, other grants may sup­port con­struc­tion of win­ning de­signs.

Chicago restau­rants cur­rently can op­er­ate in­door din­ing at 25% of nor­mal ca­pac­ity. Sam Toia, CEO of the Illi­nois Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion, praised Light­foot for as­sist­ing his in­dus­try, an early vic­tim of COVID-19. “LA and New York do not have in­door din­ing. We have the 25%,” Toia said.

“We ought to think out­side the box” to keep restau­rants vi­able, he said, cit­ing the mayor’s sup­port for clos­ing some thor­ough­fares to ex­pand out­door restau­rant seat­ing. “Ob­vi­ously, we’re still­ing wait­ing for a vac­cine or ef­fec­tive treat­ment, but that doesn’t seem to be around the cor­ner yet,” Toia said.

Eric Smith, vice chair at BMO Har­ris, said, “We know that Chicago res­i­dents are in­no­va­tive and for­ward-think­ing, and we look for­ward to see­ing their ideas for sup­port­ing our restau­rants and bars, and I hope that the so­lu­tions that come out of the Win­ter De­sign Chal­lenge will re­main long af­ter the COVID-19 pan­demic sub­sides.”

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