Reality Reset: How One Innovative Restaurant in Chicago Finds the Path Forward

Jan 20, 2021

Woman getting pick up

Almost two years ago, Erin Carlman Weber opened All Together Now with her partners, an all-day café and market, wine shop and gathering place in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood in Chicago. The restaurant quickly amassed a committed community following (including yours truly) thanks to their innovative in-store programming and wine club, focus on small label and female-run vintners and outstanding food offerings.

Of course, all of that changed last March with stay at home orders being decreed across the country. Over the past nine months, cafes and restaurants are adjusting to this strange, new normal and owners that relied on dine-in customers are rapidly coming up with ways to serve a community who is no longer allowed into dining rooms.I had the opportunity to get on the phone with Erin this week to talk about how her business has changed and what the future could look like for small businesses across the country as vaccines are distributed and restrictions are lifted.

When did you make the pivot to a contactless experience?

“The shift started the weekend of March 14th and 15th, 2020 as we began thinking about what we needed to do to protect ourselves before even the decree came down from Governor Pritzker. We decided that we would stop having guests in the restaurants and would move to take away only. It wasn’t an easy decision to make — it felt like there was no right way to move forward. By protecting ourselves and our staff fully, would we be going back on our financial obligations and letting our guests down? It comes down to balance to making sure everyone feels comfortable.”

How do you engage with your customer during this time?

“We are very active on Social Media, especially [Instagram] Stories. The nature of the interaction has changed, but we still engage regularly, whether its people calling in with special orders for cheese plates, wine for the weekend or gifts for friends. Additionally, our walk-up window has been a fortunate amenity to have in this time.”

How do you think that your business will continue to change once dine-in customers feel comfortable lounging indoors again?

“It’s hard to say because there isn’t going to be a morning where everyone wakes up and feels safe to engage again as they once did in public spaces. It’s going to be a slow burn.”

Exterior view of the restaurant

“We’ve seen surprising success with some of the new endeavors including our take-away Family Dinners that we have started, but is it due to specific situation we are under? It’s unknown to us right now how much of it is genuinely a service that our guests are going to want to continue once they can come back in. That being said, there are a lot of families and working people in the neighborhood who want a higher quality meal that they don’t have to sit at a restaurant for and if we can figure out a way to keep putting that option available.”

“Additionally, we have stepped up our online ordering capabilities pretty significantly and that’s something that we will definitely continue now that the infrastructure is in place; the legwork has been done. “

How has kitchen safety changed?

“It’s really about the amount of people in the kitchen. We can sanitize every surface all day long, but even if we have two people working in our little kitchen at the same time, they will be within six feet of one another. So basically we have stripped back our operations to two people in front of house and our chef. If our chef needs help, she will have a second person come in on a day that we are closed or, for example, for our Saturday bagel program, one of our chefs will come in at night after we close on Friday and make all of the bagels for Saturday morning. It’s a matter of staggering shifts and schedules so we can all feel comfortable and safe.”