Chicago restaurants see drop in business amid heat wave

Restaurants near Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center typically draw many commuters, but business slowed as temps hit 100 degrees Thursday.

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Lou Mitchell’s, 565 W. Jackson Blvd., saw slower business on Thursday due to the heat.

Lou Mitchell’s, at 565 W. Jackson Blvd., saw slower business Thursday due to the heat.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As high temps scorched Chicago for the second day in a row, local restaurants struggled as the weather kept customers away.

When Lou Mitchell’s diner opened for the week Wednesday, it was met with a dual business killer of a heat wave and the first week of school.

The diner, at 565 W. Jackson Blvd., is closed Monday and Tuesday and has had a sluggish couple of days since temperatures soared near 100 degrees Wednesday, hitting a record-setting 100 degrees on Thursday.

“This week, in general, has been much slower than the average week over the past couple months,” manager Audrey Colone said. “I’d definitely say the weather has impacted everybody. You just don’t do as much.”

Office workers in the building where Erik’s Deli is located, 525 W. Van Buren St., gave deli owner Rachel Enokou a heads-up earlier in the week, forecasting slow business.

“(They) came down Monday and Tuesday saying, ‘Are you guys going to be open? Because we are going to work from home because of the heat,’” Enokou said, adding that she could tell the foot traffic in and around her deli Thursday afternoon was “not what we would usually get at this time.”

Enokou said that she expected a slow week with the courtesy warning from the office workers and predictions of hot weather.

But that hasn’t stopped her from thinking about how some factors are out of her hands regarding business activity, such as the COVID-19 pandemic giving workers the opportunity to abandon their offices and stay home.

Down the street from Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center, Colone and Enokou said their restaurants ordinarily draw many commuters.

Lou Mitchell’s also attracts office workers during the weekday lunch hours, but with a bit more than half the tables being filled Thursday, Colone said, “It looks like it might be busy in here, but this is not very busy.”

There’s still “plenty of soup,” at Lou Mitchell’s, and its oatmeal — usually a hot seller, Colone said — hasn’t moved this week.

“More sandwiches than a big hot meal,” Colone said of what people are ordering. “More cold sandwiches, turkey, club sandwiches. Definitely no soup.”

The quiet business prompted Colone to send some employees home early, though she said the diner started each day this week with the regular number of workers staffed.

Audrey Colone, general manager at Lou Mitchell’s, said this week business has been slower than the average week during the past couple of months. “I’d definitely say the weather has impacted everybody. You just don’t do as much,” Colone said.

Audrey Colone, general manager at Lou Mitchell’s, said this week business has been slower than the average week: “I’d definitely say the weather has impacted everybody. You just don’t do as much.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Enokou, too, has had to consider the pros and cons of remaining open during business lulls.

“It does impact the business in the way that sometimes we will even think about closing, because what’s the point of being open if we are going to have so little activity? When you think about the cost of the worker and everything else, it makes sense sometimes to not even be open,” Enokou said.

Rachel Enokou (right) is the owner of Erik’s Deli at 525 W. Van Buren St. She said the weather has prompted her to think about closing “because what’s the point of being open if we are going to have so little activity.”

Rachel Enokou (right) is owner of Erik’s Deli at 525 W. Van Buren St. She said the weather has prompted her to think about closing “because what’s the point of being open if we are going to have so little activity?”

Kade Heather/Sun-Times

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