Smack Dab Chicago works to keep serving community and staff amid COVID-19

By Anika Exum
Medill Reports

Smack Dab Chicago, a restaurant nestled “smack dab” in Rogers Park, offers a menu full of delectable items and lots of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. This and the addition of its warm space and staff draw every type of foodie, especially at their monthly free community dinners.

However, with the recent spread of COVID-19, Smack Dab founders and staff are tasked with pivoting in order to still be as accessible and present for staff and community members as were their services before the outbreak.

After announcing the installation of new sanitation stations, the encouragement of no physical contact at the restaurant and the expansion of their delivery radius among other measures of precaution last week on Smack Dab social media, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a moratorium on Sunday forcing the restaurant to close for dine-in beginning today.

Co-founder Christine Forster turned to social media, announcing how Smack Dab will continue to care for and serve its community despite having to close in a way.

“I think [closing for dine-in] is absolutely the right move. Now, it’s about making sure that our representatives understand the need to support our community members who work in the service industry,” said Forster in an Instagram story post earlier today. “At Smack Dab, we’re going to work overtime to one, take care of our staff as much as possible, and two, take care of you guys [followers].”

Smack Dab started as a pop-up cafe, but quickly transitioned into a permanent dine-in location in 2018. Forster and co-founder Axel Erkenswick then began their monthly “free community dinners” after a former employee proposed the idea as a way to support their local community during the 2018 government shutdown and associated furloughs.

“We were like, ‘Wow, this is a really important time to do this,’” Forster said. “We just started doing them and we loved them.”

When we visited in January, Smack Dab’s first community dinner of the year served over 100 guests. Forster informed Medill Reports this weekend that they still aim to hold their next free community dinner with big modifications to still fight food insecurity as much as possible during this time when many community members are out or work and school.

“We started the meals during the furloughed worker time, so it seems only right that we try to be as helpful as possible while keeping public safety in mind,” she added.

Follow @smackdabchi on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with COVID-19 updates, including how you can still order food, news on menu additions to come for the duration of the moratorium and how you can support small businesses and independent delivery services like Smack Dab.

Photo at top: Smack Dab Chicago creates a warm community with not only great food, but also a welcoming space. (Anika Exum/MEDILL)