When Brittany Gumbiner applied for the last permit she needed to get the cash register ringing at Scoops Dessert Bar on the Gold Coast, she couldn’t believe what she heard when she went to City Hall.
She could open right away, without waiting another two weeks for a health inspection, thanks to new rules backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and passed by the Chicago City Council that took effect July 31.
“That was massive for me,” Gumbiner said. “I had to get those doors open as soon as possible.”
Scoops Dessert Bar at 838 N. State St. is the first restaurant in Chicago to open as part of the city’s Expedited Restaurant Licensing Pilot Program, which is designed to help fill restaurants that shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the city — and never reopened.
Scoops Dessert Bar is the first in Chicago to offer an all-vegan, gluten-free menu, Gumbiner said. The menu will feature boozy milkshakes, ice cream sandwiches, muffins, coffee and mini-doughnuts.
It replaced European-style gelato shop Cafe Crèmerie, which is in the midst of relocating to River North, according to Eater.
Approximately half of Chicago’s 7,500 restaurants closed either temporarily or permanently in 2020, according to the mayor’s office. The Federal Reserve estimated that approximately 44,000 restaurant workers in the Chicago area lost their jobs.
Two and a half months after Chicago officials lifted the last of the restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19, Chicago’s hospitality industry has yet to fully rebound, with receipts still lagging behind expectations and a surge in the confirmed number of cases of COVID-19 driven by the more transmissible delta variant.
Ken Meyer, the acting commissioner of the Bureau of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said he was spurred to get the pilot program up and running as soon as possible after seeing so many empty storefronts where vibrant restaurants once drew a crowd.
“It is our highest priority,” Meyer said. “COVID-19 is very unpredictable. You have to have patience.”
The pilot program allows new licensed retail food establishments to take over spaces left vacant but still operational by their former tenants two weeks faster than usual, Meyer said.
The previous restaurant would need to have passed a Chicago Department of Public Health inspection on or after July 1, 2018, and have made no changes to structural, plumbing, ventilation or electrical systems for the new eatery to be eligible for the program and skip an initial health inspection.
The new eatery will be inspected within six months to ensure it is protecting diners, Meyers said.
“We don’t want to slow down new businesses but we also want everyone to be protected,” Meyers said.
Gumbiner said she was “extremely confident” that the new rules would keep her diners safe.
“The city has been extremely supportive,” Gumbiner said. “It really helped me get this business up and running at such a crazy time.”