Dec 19, 2022 - Business

Looking back on Chicago's restaurant closings in 2022

Animated illustration of a neon sign with a "Sorry We're Closed" flickering on and off.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Happy hours at GT Fish & Oyster. Pasta at Pelago. Dates at Elizabeth.

  • These are just three Chicago favorites that are closing by year-end, among a number of local restaurants to shutter this year.

Why it matters: The pandemic has been brutal on our dining scene. For many restaurants, it seemed 2022 should have been the comeback year.

  • Instead, we saw the opposite.

What happened: Many customers continue to forgo dining out due to remote work and inflation, while restaurants are struggling with labor shortages and soaring food prices.

  • All this as federal relief funds have run dry, one year after restaurants were approved for over $28 billion in pandemic relief money in early 2021.
  • Illinois set aside $50 million in grants in their 2022/2023 budget.

Driving the news: Other closings are Tavern on Rush, Boiler Room, Uncommon Ground (Edgewater), Uncle J's Bar B Que, Susie's Drive-Thru, Rêve Burger, The Grafton and many others.

  • Little Goat Diner is reopening in a new North Side location.

What they're saying: "This past year has been a testament to the perseverance of independent restaurants," Illinois Restaurant Association President and CEO Sam Toia tells Axios.

  • "In 2022, our industry weathered significant odds, including the rising costs of doing business, staffing challenges and supply chain issues."

Be smart: Even before the pandemic, most restaurants operated on razor-thin margins — making the industry incredibly sensitive to any financial setbacks.

  • GT Fish & Oyster, for example, has operated in River North for 12 years. In 2019, its lobster rolls cost $25.
  • Today? Rising food costs made that lobster roll cost over $50.

What they're saying: "Closing is not easy," chef Giuseppe Tentori tells Axios.

  • For its first seven years, he says, the restaurant was so busy that you couldn't tell a Saturday from a Monday. But now, downtown foot traffic is way down and labor costs are 20% higher than in 2019.
  • "I think a lot of people only go to downtown restaurants that are new, not necessarily good," Tentori says.

The other side: Some restaurants have thrived thanks to pandemic pivots. Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream in Bridgeport is closing at year-end, but not because of the economy.

  • "It was an experiment in making a mini food hall during the pandemic," co-owner Ed Marszewski tells Axios.
  • "It was a place to incubate the three food concepts. Now, we are all moving on to other projects."

What's next: New restaurants are opening in 2023, including a new Boka concept across the street from GT Fish, and a yet-to-be-announced project from Marszewski.

Editor's note: This story was updated to note the restaurant reopening a new North Side location is Little Goat Diner, not Girl & The Goat.

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