Chicago Restaurant Transforms Into Relief Center For Unemployed Restaurant Workers

Charli Renken Charli Renken

Chicago Restaurant Transforms Into Relief Center For Unemployed Restaurant Workers

Recently laid-off restaurant workers can pick up free meals and groceries at Big Star Wicker Park starting March 24 at 5 p.m.

The coronavirus crisis has hit the food industry hard, with a surge of lay-offs as some businesses close down or scale back staff in order to keep afloat. One hospitality company is taking up the mantle to make sure these recently unemployed restaurant workers are taken care of during this difficult time. In partnership with The LEE Initiative and Chef Edward Lee, One Off Hospitality and Chef-Partner Paul Kahan will transform their Mexican restaurant Big Star Wicker Park into the headquarters for ongoing restaurant workers relief.

With the help of Makers Mark, those in need can pick up free meals and grocery bags every night starting March 24 at 5 p.m. on a first-come-first-served basis. Each person will receive one dinner and a bag of groceries including non-perishable canned foods, a selection of proteins, vegetables, and additional staples, while supplies last. Proof of eligibility must be given at pick-up; a recent pay stub and valid ID is sufficient.

“The spread of Covid-19 has been disastrous for the restaurant community and so many of the hard-working employees who are now unable to collect a paycheck,” said Kahan. “We’re so thankful for Maker’s Mark and Chef Edward Lee of The LEE Initiative for stepping up to provide for these workers, who are truly the backbone of the hospitality industry. Alongside my partners and team, we’re grateful that we’re able to use Big Star as a place to support these tremendous charitable efforts, and think it’s remarkable to see how our industry continues to band together in a time of great need.”

Interior shot of Big Star Wicker Park. Photo by Lucy Angel.

There will be specific guidelines in place to keep staff and those picking up meals safe. No one will be allowed inside the building. Instead, one staff member will be outside to hand out meals to people in line. The line will also have strict guidelines to stay six feet apart from each other, marked by orange traffic cones.

Meals and grocery bags will be available during the entire quarantine period or while supplies last. Those who want to get involved in this initiative should send donations to The LEE Initiative or donate goods like diapers, toilet paper, paper towels through Amazon orders sent to Big Star Wicker Park, 1531 N Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. No donations will be picked up in person in order to keep staff safe.

Chef Edward Lee. Photo by Jolea Brown.

One Off Hospitality is the collective responsible for popular food industry concepts like Big Star Wicker Park, Blackbird, avec, The Violet Hour, The Publican, and other popular Chicago spots. The hospitality collective is also raising donations to support their staff during this difficult time. You can donate to the COVID-19 One Off Employee Relief Fund here.

Chef Edward Lee is the chef and owner of 610 Magnolia, MilkWood and Whiskey Dry in Louisville, KY and the Culinary Director for Succotash in National Harbor, Maryland and Penn Quarter, DC. He is also the founder of The LEE (Let’s Empower Employment) Initiative, a non-profit that works to bring more diversity and equality to the restaurant business. The LEE Initiative is also hosting similar restaurant workers relief centers across the country in cities like Los Angelos, Denver, and DC.

If you want to support local Chicago restaurants, please also consider ordering food from Big Star and other Chicago restaurants through delivery apps. Big Star is currently accepting pick up orders through Tock and delivery through GrubHub and Caviar.

Feature photo by Cassie Stadnicki.

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