Andersonville restaurant welcomes outdoor diners to winter igloos

The outdoor “igloos” and heat lamps at Fiya in Andersonville provide cold weather havens to keep customers warm when dining outside during the brisk winter months in Chicago. (Sean Rhomberg/Medill)

By Sean Rhomberg
Medill Reports

Fiya first opened its doors on Clark Street in Andersonville in June 2020 at a time when the only space where patrons could sit was the large outdoor dining area in the back of the restaurant inspired by Israeli cuisine.

Nearly two years later, some guests still find themselves choosing to eat outdoors, now under the cover of large plastic domes and red-hot heat lamps fighting back at Chicago’s winter temperatures.

“That’s something the pandemic has changed,” Fiya co-owner Mindy Friedler said. “People are sitting outside in January. It’s just a different world.”

The importance of expanded outdoor dining areas comes as the omicron variant of COVID-19 remains prevalent in the Chicago area and undermines residents’ willingness to spend time  crowded indoors despite a citywide vaccine mandate for indoor dining, recreation and fitness areas.

Friedler said a lot of work went into developing a “warm” and inviting space for customers, including working with Chicago-based manufacturing company Thunder Domes to develop the large seating domes now on Fiya’s back patio. The spaces each comfortably seat four to five patrons, but additional seating can be added and removed.

While the additions can help mitigate the frigid Chicago temperatures, the spaces are hardly balmy, and some responsibility still falls on those visiting the restaurant.

“Pretend like someone invited you to a Bears game to sit in a box. You still have to wear a jacket and layers,” Friedler said.

Friedler said most patrons elect to dine around the large wood oven that sits in the middle of Fiya, but the option to eat outside remains available.

Uptown resident Megan Miedema said she feels safer eating outside with the high levels of omicron variant transmission in the community and that the effort restaurants put into making their environments more comfortable doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I’ve seen some restaurants really pour into it and make it work and do a really good job,” Miedema said.

One of those restaurants that has done good job, according to Miedema, is the Willow Room, 1800 N. Halsted St., which features structures similar to those at Fiya.

Restaurants may face even more motivation to offer outdoor seating in the winter just to give restaurantgoers like Miedema the opportunity to provide business in a challenging time.

“I’ve seen so many restaurants in our neighborhood close or lose business,” Miedema said. “If there’s anything I can do to help support them, I want to do it.”

Before the winter of 2020, the Illinois Restaurant Association and City Open Workshop, a collaborative group that contributes to city design and public policy, partnered to help give restaurants ideas for how to design spaces better suited for the cold temperatures.

The 29-page report highlighted strategies that include protection from the wind, lots of light, colorful accessories and heat sources that restaurants can better utilize to make the outdoor dining experience more comfortable.

Decorating the outdoor patio with lights and pillows are just a couple of the ways Fiya has tried to make dining outdoors both functional and comfortable.

For those who may be hesitant to brave the cold for their next meal out, Friedler suggests a slight change in mindset.

“I think people who go in with the right attitude see it as kind of an adventure and have fun,” Friedler said. “The other people, you know, they’re kind of cranky.”


Sean Rhomberg is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @seanrhomberg.