One of Chicago’s most recognized restaurant groups has announced plans for mass layoffs as the restaurant industry continues to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and questions rise over how many will survive as temperatures cool.
Boka Restaurant Group filed a notice with the state showing its intent to let go of 516 workers at several of its 23 highly-acclaimed eateries.
The layoffs include employees at chef Stephanie Izard’s famed Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat and Cabra restaurants, as well as Momotaro, Swift & Sons, GT Prime Steakhouse and more.
Boka Restaurant Group did not immediately respond to NBC Chicago’s requests for comment on the planned layoffs.
According to the notice, which is required for companies with 75 or more full-time workers under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, more than a dozen of Boka’s 23 restaurants will be affected. The layoffs are set to take effect beginning Sept. 20, according to the notice, which cites COVID-19 as the reason.
Restaurants across the city have been adjusting to delivery, take-out and outdoor dining as the coronavirus pandemic forced a citywide shutdown of indoor dining and has now left many at limited capacity inside.
According to Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Tioa, restaurant sales are down 50 to 70 percent from last year, and it’s predicted that 86 percent of restaurants won’t make a profit.
“We’ve been hemorrhaging here in the hospitality/restaurant industry here in Chicago,” he said.
Get to know the owners of Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Chicago, L.A. Dogworks in Los Angeles and the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth, N.H., as they tell us about their struggles during COVID-19 and how they have been working hard to stay afloat.
In the West Loop, where many of Boka’s restaurants are located, streets have been shut down to make room for more outdoor dining.
Still, restaurants across the city have been operating on different levels as they look to survive and brace for what will happen as colder weather looms. Others have been forced to close their doors for good.
Last month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched a winter design challenge in an attempt to “reimagine the winter outdoor dining experience.”
As it stands, Chicago restaurants can only operate at 25 percent capacity indoors, and Toia says increasing that number to 50% in the coming months, will be key.
“Our restaurants and bars are the heart and soul of the city, and we must do everything possible to keep them operational during the harsh winter months,” Toia said. “We need out-of-the-box thinking to address the hardship facing our industry.”