Kelly Cheng of Sun Wah BBQ


(6/2/20) LAST WEEK, WHEN I SPOKE to Kelly Cheng of the family that owns the popular Uptown Chinese restaurant Sun Wah BBQ, it looked like restaurants were going to start reopening this week. Now, with the protests and looting, who knows? But even if they don’t this week, they will eventually, and Kelly gives us insight into what that will be like—and into what the whole lockdown has been like for a family-run restaurant in an Asian enclave, for whom the pandemic was never distant, even before it reached America.

Kelly Cheng and her favorite tool at Sun Wah BBQ

She tells how they’ll serve people safely on Broadway, what “shelter at home” means for extended Asian families, and how they decided the most crucial decision—do they carve the Peking duck before sending it out as takeout? It’s a view of Coronavirus’ impact on the dining scene, far from the downtown restaurants you’ve mostly heard from.


Chris Chacko of Sparrow Coffee


(5/26/20) 97% OF SPARROW COFFEE’S wholesale business went away when Chicago’s restaurant scene suddenly shut down. Chris Chacko talks about how they’re hanging on (and actually doing well at their cafe in Naperville), and he tells us how he got into roasting coffee in the first place (being Indian-born, his parents wanted him to be a doctor). We also spar over whether Michelin really means anything in regards to our food scene.

But he really gets animated when we talk about the Indian food he’s making at home. So this one’s a little about life under Coronavirus, but it’s really about being devoted to a vision of what cuisine and coffee can be, even if the restaurant scene barely exists at the moment.

Matt Danko and Chris Chacko at Sparrow Coffee Roastery


Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr of The Fifty/50 Group


(5/19/20) OWNERS OF A FAST-GROWING GROUP that includes restaurants (Steadfast, West Town Diner), bars (The Fifty/50, The Sixth, The Berkshire Room, Utopian Tailgate) and the Roots pizza chain, Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr were also quick to react to the Coronavirus shutdown, partnering with The Lee Initiative to serve meals to the out of work during the crisis—which enabled them to rehire 100 of the 600 workers they had to furlough.

Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr

We talk about how they pivoted to feeding the hungry, how they plan to come back, and why they’re pushing Springfield to let restaurants start to come back sooner—when they’ll also open the biggest Roots Pizza yet, in the South Loop.


Matt Sussman of Table, Donkey & Stick/Peter Klein of Seedling Fruit


(5/12/20) IN THIS EPISODE I TALK TO TWO PEOPLE I’ve known for a long time in the food industry, to see how the lockdown is affecting them and their businesses. Matt Sussman of neighborhood wine bar Table, Donkey & Stick saw Coronavirus coming early, pivoted to pizza to get through and went through the PPP loan process. But there was one thing he couldn’t plan for.

Matt Sussman (left) with original TD&S chef Scott Manley

Peter Klein has Seedling Fruit in Three Haven, Michigan, but lives in Chicago and is a familiar figure at Green City and other farmers markets. He’s just starting to have fruit ready to sell, but is thinking hard about how to market it in a world where restaurants are shut down.

Brad Berliner

Peter Klein


Chicago Magazine Restaurant Critic Jeff Ruby


(5/5/20) CHICAGO MAGAZINE’S JEFF RUBY and I discuss the most pressing question of the Coronavirus Era: does anybody need a restaurant reviewer (or any other kind of food writer) right now? Whether or not they do, we talk about what we miss, what we liked before it all went away, what made Chicago’s best new restaurants list (which hit newsstands just before Coronavirus did, but still isn’t online), and oddly enough, our mutual hometown and why it proves that food in this country had gotten really good before this mishegas happened. It’s a visit back to a world where food was the funnest thing to talk about.


Tour of Ever With Michael Muser


(4/28/20) OTHER RESTAURATEURS HAVE HAD TO close their restaurants. Michael Muser, former GM of Grace and future GM of chef Curtis Duffy’s Ever, is one of the few still building one, on the theory that restaurants will reopen… eventually. Muser invited Fooditor Radio to leave its home (wearing a mask) and tour the under-construction restaurant, which he says will be ready for whatever the new rules are when they’re put into place—after all, he’s in the business of making sure you’re absolutely comfortable and ready for a good time, whatever that takes to make happen.

Michael Muser in Ever Canyon

I wrote about Ever’s ceiling and soundproofing system here.


Restaurant Owner Scott Worsham


(4/21/20) WHEN SCOTT AND SARI ZERNICH WORSHAM had to stop seating customers at their restaurants mfk. and Bar Biscay, they looked at how they could serve their neighborhoods—and keep enough revenue coming in to retain key personnel. The answer was to turn Bar Biscay into Bodega Biscay, selling basic household goods and cooking supplies to West Town as well as prepared foods. Now Scott Worsham says if they ever get to reopen, the bodega concept will likely remain. I spoke to him last week about what the outlook is for independent restaurants, whether help is coming from the government, and what the deal is with people eating kale.

Scott Worsham at mfk.


Cookbook Author and Editor Chandra Ram


(4/14/20) PLATE MAGAZINE, WHICH CHANDRA RAM edits, had to pivot quickly from its normal fare of recipes and chef interviews to offering chefs advice on things like suing your insurance company over Coronavirus closure. Meanwhile cookbook author Chandra, working from home, fired up the instant pot (as well as making bread and other things). So we talk about what we’re cooking, what we’re taking out (the masthead picture is from her fave Rainbow Thai), how you publish a restaurant trade magazine in a world with no open restaurants, whether this is worse than the 1970s, and how we’ll make masks and gloves stylish when all this is over.

Chandra Ram, cookbook author and editor


Critic Michael Nagrant


(4/9/20) MICHAEL NAGRANT’S RESPONSE TO the restaurant lockdown was a newsletter, Love In the Time of Coronavirus, which talks to chefs about how they’re responding to being forced out of their everyday business. It was also to ask people to pay for the newsletter—and then to take that revenue and donate it to the staffs of different restaurants.

In this episode we talk about his newsletter, his favorite takeout options, whether he’ll go back to reviewing after writing about chefs (and giving restaurants money), the ever-shrinking food media scene, and being a dad at home with two boys, a subject I am more than prepared to talk about with him. Oh, and that flu he had after attending a conference in Vegas in February…

One of Michael Nagrant’s favorites for takeout: Philip Foss at El Ideas

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Writer and Reviewer John Kessler


(4/6/20) WE’RE ALL IN THE SAME SHELTERING-IN-PLACE boat here, and a lot of people in media are doing great work chronicling what’s going on during this crisis. This new podcast… well, it’s probably not going to be an example of that.

But let’s face it, a lot of what we miss about restaurants right now is other people. Conversation, not always heavy or thoughtful, about how we’re getting through this moment. So I decided it would be good to just start talking to people in the food world, and letting you hear some relatively grownup conversation from them too. And so we present a new limited podcast series… Fooditor Radio Is All Dressed Up And Has No Place To Go.

John Kessler, learning about Chicago foodstuffs

My first guest is John Kessler, fellow writer, former food critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and contributor to Chicago magazine (and author of that piece). We talk about where we’re ordering from, what we’re cooking, and what we hope the restaurant scene to be like when we come out the other side of this.

This will be one continuous post for this series as long as it lasts, with each new episode appearing at the top. So you can listen to it here, here at Soundcloud, or search for Fooditor Radio at iTunes/Apple Podcasts and subscribe.


Michael Gebert is the Malört-branded sanitizer of Fooditor.


“Bummin on Tremelo” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Sparrow Black 2019


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