Axios Chicago

Picture of the Chicago skyline.

Good morning, it's Thursday. If you are looking for the latest on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is providing live updates.

🌨 Today's weather: It's going to snow this afternoon, just in time for your commute home. High of 27.

😷 Situational Awareness: The Archdiocese of Chicago is making masks optional for all Catholic schools in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park effective Monday.

Today's newsletter is 909 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Conflicting restaurant data

Photo of a family eating at a restaurant.

Daley's restaurant in Woodlawn in January. Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Local restaurants are asking for more pandemic relief the same week a new national report says restaurant sales are on the rebound.

Why it matters: Restaurants have been hit hard by the pandemic, but dining and takeout/delivery saw big gains at the end of 2021.

  • Toast's Restaurant Trends Report used aggregated sales data from restaurants on its platform to find that 4th-quarter sales in 2021 were 52% above 2020 levels and 4% above pre-pandemic levels.
  • This surge even includes a December that saw the Omicron variant forcing tighter restrictions on indoor spaces.

Methodology: The report looked at regions, not states or cities, so this data is a reflection of the entire Midwest. Other findings include:

  • Dining out: Up 55% over 2020.
  • Quick service restaurants: Up 30% over 2020.
  • Takeout and delivery: Up 59% over pre-pandemic levels.

Yes, but: Chicago restaurants still lost customers during Omicron. According to an Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) survey, 58% of businesses reported their sales decreased by more than 50% in December 2021.

  • "Everyone will tell you that during the last three or four months, we've seen our business fall off drastically," chef Rick Bayless told Fox 32 in early February.

Driving the news: The IRC is asking President Biden and both U.S. senators to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund established in 2021.

What they're saying: "Many restaurants and bars are fending off bankruptcy filings and eviction notices every day while doing everything they can to keep their businesses running," IRC executive director Erika Polmar tells Axios.

  • "There is not much time left."

What's next: With the indoor mask mandate being lifted next week, restaurants are hopeful pre-pandemic dining levels will return.

💭 Justin's thought bubble: I used Resy to look for reservations for next Saturday. A quick anecdotal survey of 10 top restaurants revealed zero openings.

2. The Second City (for Ukrainian Americans)

Ukrainian population by metro area, 2019
Data: U.S. Census; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Thousands of Ukrainian Americans in Chicago are waking up this morning to the news of Russia's full-scale attack on their home country.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Daniel LaSpata introduced a resolution earlier this month to support "the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" as the country comes under Russian invasion.

Why it matters: The resolution is a recognition and appreciation of Chicago's large, 100-year-old Ukrainian-American community.

  • Our metropolitan area hosts the second largest population in the nation, with more than 54,000 people identifying as having Ukrainian ancestry.
  • But with different immigration waves and religious affiliations, the community can seem diffused.

Where they are: According to Orysia Kourbatov, an administrator at Chicago's Ukrainian National Museum, the area's Ukrainian Americans are concentrated in the following areas:

What they're saying: "This resolution isn’t just about those currently living in Ukraine. It is about showing our own communities that we stand united with them," Nubia Willman, director of the city’s Office of New Americans, told Block Club Chicago.

3. Tips and hot links

Illustration of three hot dogs forming a Y.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

😷 "This is really about what we do in the next emergency" — Gov. Pritzker on why he is appealing the school mask mandate to the Illinois Supreme Court. (Capitol Fax)

🗞 Kyle Rittenhouse is launching a new fund to support those suing media companies. (WGN-TV)

💉 In a big win for Mayor Lightfoot, the vaccine mandate for Chicago police officers was upheld by an arbitrator. (Tribune)

👩‍⚖️ Illinois state Senator Tom Cullerton has resigned and will plead guilty to embezzlement charges. (CBS 2)

🗺 A new interactive project dives into Chicago segregation, including how we invented modern segregation. (WTTW)

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4. Food fight: pączki

Photo of paczkis on a plate.

Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

There are so many reasons to love Chicago, but a biggie is our celebration of two Pączki Days!

  • One happens on Fat Tuesday (next week) but another follows traditional Polish practice and falls on the preceding Thursday (today).
  • So on this "first" Pączki Day of 2022, we're throwing down our favorite versions of these filled doughnuts.

Monica's pick: After visiting the kitchen of Delightful Pastries in Jefferson Park years ago, I fell in love with Dobra Bielinski's light, delicious pączki.

  • Her barely sweet dough is as delectable as fillings that include fruit and custard, but also vodka and vanilla bean, German chocolate, and moonshine with lemon ($4.59).
  • My all-time favorite, though, is the strawberries and cream — a perfect dessert any time of year.
  • The bakery may have already closed out Tuesday pączki orders, so it's good they have some for walk-ins the rest of the year.
Photo of Paczkis on a plate.
Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Justin's pick: Fat Tuesday gives me an excuse to travel down Archer Avenue to the Bridgeport Bakery, now called Bridgeport Bakery 2.0.

  • You can walk in and get pączki starting this weekend, but I ordered ahead and went with the classics: strawberry, pineapple, lemon, buttercream, chocolate, and, of course, cherry ($2.09).
  • Yes, I ate them all. You may celebrate Fat Tuesday, but I celebrate Fat Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Fat Weekend.

📫 Reply with your recommendations for a story we will run Monday, giving everyone a chance to get their orders in for next Tuesday.

5. Photo(s) of day: Feb 24, 2011

Photo of basketball players on the court.

Derrick Rose drives against the Heat at the United Center on February 24, 2011. Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

The Bulls start the second half of the season tonight tied for the No. 1 seed in the East. The last time the Bulls led the Eastern Conference?

  • 2011, when they won 62 games with Derrick Rose.

🏀 On this day in Chicago history 11 years ago, LeBron James and the high-flying Miami Heat came to town and were defeated on national TV in front of a sold-out crowd (and celebrities) at the United Center.

A man watches a basketball sitting courtside.
Kayne West at the game. Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo of a man and a mascot watching a basketball game.
Then-Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel talks to Benny the Bull. Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Our picks:

🥬 Monica is still recovering from eating so many subs, Instagrammable doughnuts and Pączki. Kale salad for the rest of the week.

💼 Justin is digging the show Severance on AppleTV+.

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