LAKEVIEW — The food service industry has been devastated by coronavirus, but for chef Allen Rochelle, the pandemic has brought his catering business back to its restaurant roots.
Le Fleur de Lis, Rochelle’s Creole and Cajun restaurant that closed in Bridgeport in 2014, will return for a pop-up dining experience Aug. 27–30 in Lakeview. It’s part of a collaboration with Get in the Kitchen, the “party school for cooking classes” at 3617 N. Broadway.
Rochelle had just started leading Cajun cooking parties at Get in the Kitchen when the pandemic hit, he said. Like most business owners, he wasn’t sure if his catering, meal prep and cooking class company would be able to weather the months of mandated closure.
“It’s an ever-changing market, and the cooking classes aren’t as popular right now with the pandemic,” Rochelle said. “We figured shifting gears to offer a pop-up dining experience could be more popular and bring in some revenue for both our businesses.”
Jason Bailin, owner of Get in the Kitchen, said if the pop-up is a success, he hopes to partner with various chefs to continue offering them regularly. He said it’s part of a larger movement within the food service industry of businesses helping each find ways to generate revenue during the pandemic.
“The new world is about collaboration, not competition,” Bailin said. “We’re all trying to throw as much stuff against the wall as possible to see what sticks and where we can pivot to keep thriving.”
Earlier this year, Bailin took on a team of local chefs who were furloughed from their jobs due to the pandemic to offer curbside dinners and at-home cooking kits.
Get in the Kitchen has also reintroduced its cooking classes, which follow strict social distancing guidelines. The business offers weekly pasta cooking classes, doggie treat tutorials and mixology courses, as well as private events for people who want to cook with friends and family.
The BYOB pop-up for Le Fleur de Lis will feature a selection of Creole and Cajun appetizers, dinner and brunch dishes inspired by family recipes that Rochelle learned growing up in southwest Louisiana.
Reservations are recommended and tickets cost $30–$40. People can also call in to-go orders or buy food online through Grubhub, Rochelle said.
“This is every chef’s dream to go back out there,” Rochelle said. “I have those itches where I miss my restaurant days, so this gives me a weekend where I’ll have that back.”
A similar partnership has popped up at Eduardo’s Enoteca at 1212 N. Dearborn St. in the Gold Coast, where parent company Bravo Restaurants has partnered with Gotham Bagels from Madison, Wisconsin, to start offering its signature New York-style bagels.
The Italian restaurant is still serving its pizza and pasta daily, but it has introduced Gotham’s bagels for breakfast Wednesdays through Sundays, said Jordan Himmell, chief information officer at Bravo Restaurants.
Himmel, a University of Wisconsin alumnus and longtime fan of the old-school bagel shop, said the partnership resulted from plans to open a Gotham store in Chicago that were halted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our business had some pretty dark weeks after the pandemic started, and [Gotham Bagels owner] Joe Gaglio was going through the same thing,” Himmel said. “So we started sharing ideas on how we could get this up and running for the both of us right now and decided to roll it out in the Eduardo’s kitchen.”
Gaglio spent the next few months teaching Himmel and his team how to perfect his bagel recipe before they started offering them in Chicago.
“We already had the dough from making pizzas, so all we had to do was learn to make bagels instead,” Himmel said. “There’s a little bit of overlap in the kitchen between Gotham and Eduardo’s, but we’ve got a nice system down and the customers are thrilled.”
Himmel said Bravo Restaurants’ profits were down about 90 percent at the start of the pandemic, but the partnership has allowed both businesses to make up some of their lost business.
“It’s been wonderful to say we’re in this together and help support each other to grow and get through this together,” Himmel said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.