‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Greektown

As restaurants in Greektown work to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions, the neighborhood is hosting its inaugural Greektown Restaurant Week. The event kicks off Monday and runs through March 7. Organizers and restaurant owners hope it will remind residents of what the area has to offer and will generate more business.

The event also kicks off the community’s monthlong celebrations for the 200th Greek Independence Day on March 25.

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“The event is a celebration of 200 years of independence from the Ottoman Empire, March 25, 1821 was the year that the Greeks rebelled against the empire,” said George Reveliotis, a Greektown Special Service Areas Commissioner and owner of Artopolis Bakery, Cafe and Agora. “We are using this great day for the commemoration, but for every commemoration that we celebrate, it is a means of gathering, families, and friends. Hopefully, we can put a nice spotlight on all the merchants, the restaurants, the cafes.”

Video: Watch our full interview with George Reveliotis.

Greektown sits within Chicago’s Near West Side community area, lining Halsted Street from about Madison Street to Harrison Street, and its surrounding area. However, the community hasn’t always existed within those bounds, said Kristi Athas of the National Hellenic Museum.

“The Greektown you see today has only been Greektown since roughly 1963,” Athas said. “The construction of UIC, the Eisenhower Expressway, a variety of those projects forced the community to move and to really rebuild and put down new roots.”

Athas said this speaks to the resilience of the Greek American community as a whole.

Many restaurants and businesses have been a part of the fabric of Greektown for decades. Athenian Candle has been around for a century, and Greek Islands are also well-known in the community.

Amid rising rent costs and developers eyeing the area — which is a part of the West Loop — the coronavirus and its restrictions has posed an additional threat to Greektown. Last fall, after the second ban on indoor dining, Santorini, a staple in the neighborhood, closed.

But restaurant owners say Greektown isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s really a destination,” said Dalila Youkhana, owner of Athena Restaurant. “People continue to come out and support, so I don’t see it going anywhere.”

Youkhana said customers have shown an outpouring of support, ordering takeout when indoor dining wasn’t allowed, and calling to check in on the staff.

“Greektown has always shown resilience, so it’s really been a great time to see people come together,” Youkhana said. “We’re definitely here to stay, and we really appreciate the support of our neighborhood.”

Athena Restaurant, Spectrum Bar & Grill and a handful other restaurants will be a part of Greektown Restaurant Week.

“I am very happy and excited to be a part of this Greektown Restaurant Week,” said Andreas Koumi, owner of Spectrum Bar & Grill and president of the Greektown Chamber of Commerce.

Koumi said 15 of his dinners will be buy one get one half off for patrons who mention Greektown Restaurant Week. 

“I wish I could do better and give them the other one free, but things are tough,” Koumi said.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., whose 27th Ward includes Greektown, says the vaccine and loosening restrictions provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but that the restaurant community is still struggling.

“What’s holding them up is the community ordering take out,” Burnett said. “Go into the restaurants, most of their business is taking out deliveries. The community is helping them a lot, but they’re still hurting real bad.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr.

Alongside the neighborhood’s restaurants, the National Hellenic Museum is another anchor in the community. It’s been closed since the beginning of the pandemic. However, it’s indoor space is currently being used by a new food distribution program launched by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Metropolis of Chicago.

The program, called Project HOPE, which stands for Humanitarian Outreach and Philanthropic Engagement, distributes food to communities across the Chicago area.

“COVID wasn’t the reason we established this program, but it was a catalyst to bring a sense of urgency for us to really kick it into high gear,” said Yanni Sianis of Project HOPE.

On Friday, the program plans to distribute food and blankets, along with masks and hand sanitizer to people experiencing homelessness in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the museum has moved to virtual programming, expanding its YouTube channel and starting a new podcast.

This winter, Greektown also opened an outdoor art exhibit, called Fanciful Fish. Created by Chicago artists, 21 fish sculptures, all painted differently, line Halsted Street in Greektown. It’s designed to celebrate Greek culture.

“We’re all about welcoming everyone and embracing our culture and joining us in all of our festivities. This area is just so beautiful, so festive, so warm, so welcoming, you don’t want to miss out on the experience,” said Kiki Whitehead, one of the artists involved in the project who created the sculpture titled “Love-Raki.”

Southwest of Greektown on the Near West Side, University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois Health have a mass vaccination site at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena. It opened earlier this month and is vaccinating 1,000 people a day on weekdays. However, it has the ability to vaccinate three to four times that if and when the doses are available, said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, acting chief quality officer and medical director of infection prevention at UI Health.

“It’s been really important to reach out to people to let them know it's available to them,” Bleasdale said. “We use multiple methods. We have a phone number that we'll send a text message with a link to schedule, we have an email we’ll send out and we’re also making phone calls.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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