Restaurant Week the ultimate test for New Year’s resolutions

by Jon Cohn

The challenge is on, and it won’t be easy.  The problem? This month features  Restaurant Week. 

One of Chicago’s most celebrated winter events is about to  kick off and it will provide the greatest of challenges to those  still  fighting to keep those resolutions of eating a little less and  watching their waistline.

Dangerous territory, indeed. If you do venture out, here is some basic information: 

More than 370 of Chicago’s  nest restaurants will participate in the 13th annual Restaurant Week from Jan. 24  to Feb. 9.  e event has grown every year and features a multitude of the eateries from downtown, nearby neighborhoods and the suburbs—all offering discounted meals that include some of their finest selections.

Special menus are concocted, new items offered and the friendly, service-with-a-smile atmosphere make up a truly tempting 17 days of potentially eating your way through the Chicago area.

Yes, those New Year’s resolutions will be severely tested.

Can they hold up under the pressure of some of last year’s favorites such as octopus at The Dawson, cauliflower soup at Baptiste and Bottle or chorizo-stuffed  dates at Avec Mediterranean Restaurant? The popular pork bellies at Enzo can rip apart New Year’s resolutions faster than Michael Phelps cuts through water.

New restaurants will be fighting for your attention, including Pizzeria Portfolio on the riverfront; Tzuco in River North featuring a unique take on Mexican food; Cebu, a Filipino restaurant in Wicker Park; and Galit, a new Lincoln Park eatery specializing in Israeli food.

Bottom line? It will take some real fork discipline and a little mental toughness to not overindulge. I think they call that  the Chicago Way. For more information, go to ChooseChicago.com

John Cohn is a New Eastside resident.  

Going green with Circuit ridesharing

By Stephanie Racine

With Mayor Lightfoot’s new proposal on taxing solo rideshares, Circuit is a new viable option.

Circuit is a free and green rideshare company that made their debut in Chicago over the summer. New Eastside is a popular stop. The cars resemble shuttles, with each of the six passengers having their own door. The vehicles are fully electric and are hailed just like other rideshare companies, by using an app. Circuit has almost completed its pilot period in downtown Chicago and is winding down in November, but the company has no plans to leave.

“By no means do we want to leave Chicago. We’d love to be there full time,” said Circuit Co-Founder Alexander Esposito.

Circuit is looking for new ad partners for Chicago, but ideally they’d like to operate in Chicago by working with the city itself.

“We’re hoping to secure a longer-term service agreement with the City, local transit agencies or another local organization,” said Esposito.

In San Diego, there are 22 Circuit cars in operation with around 21,000 rides a month. Chicago’s ridesharing numbers are much larger than that, with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reporting 286,000 rideshare rides per day. 

Esposito said they want to help with downtown congestion by making Circuit easily accessible at parking garages. They also want to help promote public transportation use.

“If more people could get a ride to the train, I think more people would use public transportation,” Esposito said.

According to Co-Founder James Mirras, there was a trend of Circuit customers using the app to get to and from the Washington/Wells CTA station.

“I was visiting family in the suburbs and used Circuit to get from the Metra to an appointment I had,” said Ana Ayrempour.

Ayrempour was surprised at how smooth the process was, especially with it being a free service.

“It was a quick pickup and the driver was nice,” said Ayrempour.  

Circuit employs drivers full-time and wants to focus on having local people driving their cars. Esposito thinks this helps bring a more comfortable feel to the experience.

“I’ve seen a driver taking time to teach an older woman how to use the app,” Esposito said.

Circuit was started by Esposito and his partner, James Mirras, as a beach shuttle in the Hamptons in New York, and was originally called The Free Ride. Now, Circuit has grown in different cities—both big and small. South Florida, Texas, California, and the Jersey Shore currently have Circuit.

For more information and to download the app, visit thefreeride.com

Christkindlmarket brings German Christmas to Chicago

By Elisa Shoenberger

Entering its 24th year, the Christkindlmarket brings a bit of German Christmas to Chicago. Debuting in Pioneer Court in 1996, the market grew to three markets in 2019, expanding to locations in Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville and Milwaukee, Wisc.

The German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) founded the market for business and cultural reasons. They wanted an opportunity to provide small businesses in Germany with a place to feature their products before deciding to invest in the U.S., explains Maren Priebe, CEO of German American Events, a subsidiary of the GACC.

But it wasn’t just about commerce. Christkindlmarkets are popular across Germany and the rest of the European Union. The tradition of Christkindlmarkets grew out of medieval markets going back to the 14th century, said Kate Bleeker, Director of the German American Events. Annual holiday markets began to evolve into social occasions where families and entire communities came together.  

The Chicago market was modeled after the Nuremberg market, reflected by the red and white huts.

The market was a bit of a risky venture given Chicago’s snowy winters, Priebe said. But the risk paid off in the first year when 300,000 people showed up to enjoy the market with 13 vendors in Pioneer Court. The following year, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office invited them to Daley Plaza, where the market has been since.

The Christkindlmarket “has become a centerpiece of the city’s holiday celebration for locals and tourists,” Priebe said. The central location of the market, close to transportation, hotels, and the business district, and free admission have helped the market grow.

In 2014, the market expanded to Wrigleyville and in 2018 Christkindlmarket opened in Milwaukee. GACC has consulted with other fairs across the country but as far as they know they are the most traditional of the Christkindlmarkets in the US.

Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate and Wacky Wonderworks are two new vendors in this year’s market. Based in Downers Grove, Wacky Wonderworks sells 3D wooden puzzles, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex or Pegasus, that do not require additional tools. Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate will sell his hot chocolate, made from combining Belgium dark and milk chocolate, as well as other chocolate products. 

For many, collecting the Christkindlmarket cup is a long tradition. Priebe said the new Christkindlmarket cup will be unveiled Nov. 4. 

The Milwaukee and Daley Plaza markets are open from Nov. 15 to Dec . 24  and the Wrigleyville market is open Nov. 22 to Dec. 31.

Mercy Home Marathon Runners Run for Home

By Stephanie Racine

Mercy Home is a privately funded full-time home for displaced youths that has operated in Chicago since the 1800s. 

In 1887, Reverend Dennis Mahoney put together a plan to refuge homeless young men. Mercy Home’s 1140 W. Jackson Blvd West Loop location still exists as its headquarters. Today, Mercy Home offers comprehensive support for youth in need.

“We provide kids with safety, housing, food, therapy, job opportunities, tutoring, and career guidance 24-7 throughout the year,” said Director of Communications Mark Schmeltzer.

Running the Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero is a way to support the organization. The Chicago Marathon is set for 8 a.m. Oct. 9.

Mercy Home Heroes can be anyone. Two heroes running this year, Reggie Williams-Rolle and Patrick Zamkin, both former youths at Mercy Home, are running to support their home.

“I’ve made it my life’s mission to do everything I can to make sure that folks know about [Mercy Home]” Zamkin said.

This is Zamkin’s fourth year running the marathon. Despite a number of metal replacements following a motorcycle accident when he was 20, Zamkin is gunning for five Chicago Marathons.

“It gives my orthopedic surgeon fits,” Zamkin said.

Zamkin was dropped off at Mercy Home on his 15th birthday. He said the support he got from the home helped him move forward. He works as a financial advisor after 10 years at the Chicago Board of Trade. 

“You got these guys in your corner. There’s nothing you can’t do,” Zamkin said.

Williams-Rolle is preparing for his first marathon. Training has been difficult, he said, but he’s excited to be giving back to Mercy Home.

“It’s just been a matter of being able to give back in any way that I can because I understand the importance of Mercy Home,” Williams-Rolle said.

Williams-Rolle was at Mercy Home for his final two years of High School. He graduated from St. Ignatius and got his Bachelor’s in Political Science from Emory University. He works in HR and is working on his Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology.

Both runners are looking forward to the point in the marathon that passes by Mercy Home at mile 16.

“It’s at the perfect time because you’ll be at that point in the race where it is a little exhausting,” Williams-Rolle said.

“What a boost, seeing my family out there, all the employees, and the kids, they’re really out there rooting for you.” Zamkin said.

Mercy Home invites everyone to join their cheering section on Jackson Blvd. between Aberdeen and Racine.

For more information about Mercy Home, visit their website mercyhome.org.

Chocolate, tea a perfect pairing for Chicago fest

By Elisa Shoenberger

Ever wondered if Earl Grey tea should be paired with milk or dark chocolate? Or how to make a cocktail infused with matcha or other green teas? These are two of many lectures set for the Chicago’s International Tea Festival.

Taking place Nov. 1-3 at Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 W. Mart Center Dr., the festival will bring 35-40 vendors from around the world, including vendors from Nepal, Japan, and Sri Lanka, as well as local tea vendors. Tickets start at $25 for a one-day consumer pass.

The show will be Chicago’s first tea festival, started by Festival Director Nicole Burriss and six founding board members. 

Burriss, a Kansas City structural engineer, was inspired by the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, now entering its 11th year. She created the Midwest Tea Festival in Kansas City five years ago. 

“We tried to convince Nicole to come here and organize a festival because Chicago is such a diverse city,” said Agnes Rapacz, President of TeaGschwendner and a founding board member. “We believed this location would be successful for the tea festival.” 

Burriss agreed to run the fest as long as she got help.

The tea festival is open to both consumers and people in the trade. The first day is meant for people in the tea trade, though dedicated tea fans can come, and the second two days will be open to everyone.

For the price of admission, people will get a ceramic tea cup and a tote bag and will be able to taste teas from the many vendors. Burriss said people could try up to 100 teas. 

It’s also a great place to deepen knowledge about tea. People can attend more than 80 lectures or classes for an extra fee. Classes will include “Tea & Chocolate” by Sheila Duda and “Tea Cocktails” by Rapacz. There will also be a free lecture room and people can talk to the vendors.

For the “Tea Cocktails” lecture, attendees will taste cocktails and learn how to mix alcoholic drinks with tea. TeaGschwendner has also hosted chocolate and tea pairings. Rapacz recommended pairing chocolate with an opposite kind of tea, like dark chocolate and white tea, or complementary flavors such as pairing a pumpkin spice truffle with chai tea.

Chicago Architecture Center announces new neighborhoods, buildings to be featured in annual open house

(Published Sept 25, 2019)

The Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) announced on Sept. 10 the full roster of neighborhoods and sites participating in Open House Chicago 2019—now in its ninth year and one of the largest architecture festivals in the world. This free two-day public event, taking place over the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20. It offers behind-the-scenes access to almost 350 sites in 37 neighborhoods, many rarely open to the public, including repurposed mansions, stunning skyscrapers, opulent theaters, exclusive private clubs, industrial facilities, cutting-edge offices and breathtaking sacred spaces. 

The new offerings in 2019 include a trail of dozens of theater venues and related sites, literally from A (Adventure Stage Chicago) to Z (Zap Props), celebrating the City’s 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre; an expansion into the Northwest side with the addition of Irving Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park joining communities highlighted in previous years of Open House Chicago; and an open invitation to visit the CAC at 111 E. Wacker Dr. throughout Open House Chicago weekend, free of charge, for an informative overview of Chicago’s rich architectural legacy.  

“The ninth annual Open House Chicago is our gift to this city. We’re excited for all Chicagoans to ‘choose their own adventure’ and explore new communities and experience the rich diversity that lies within the 37 neighborhoods included in OHC 2019,” said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO of the CAC. “We’re also inviting people to discover the new  galleries at the Chicago Architecture Center for free on October 19 and 20. Chicago’s intrepid urban explorers who love our annual celebration of Chicago neighborhoods will discover that same authentic Chicago experience in our Chicago Gallery, home to the famous Chicago Model and skyscraper exhibits.”

Also new in 2019, Open House Chicago expands its presence on the Northwest Side with the addition of sites in the Irving Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park neighborhoods.  Highlights in the area include Irving Park’s Irish American Heritage Center, a former public school with a restored auditorium, private club room and Celtic art throughout; Jefferson Park’s Copernicus Center in the former Gateway Theater, an atmospheric 1930s movie palace transformed into a vibrant concert and theatrical venue; and Eris Brewery & Cider House, the award-winning adaptive reuse of an imposing former Masonic temple as home to a producer of distinctive ciders and beers.

For a complete list of participating sites, visit openhousechicago.org. Most Open House Chicago sites are free and do not require a reservation, but participants are encouraged to sign up to receive event e-newsletters and last-minute announcements. Get the latest news and fun facts about Open House Chicago by following the Chicago Architecture Center on Twitter (@chiarchitecture) and Facebook (facebook.com/chiarchitecture). In addition to free access, Open House Chicago offers activities at various sites all weekend long, including cultural performances, family festivals and more. Information about these programs will be added to the website later in September.

Select Open House Chicago sites require advance registration (usually due to security or capacity constraints) and will not accept drop-in visitors. TodayTix will charge a modest processing fee for most RSVP-only site bookings. Registration for these sites and lotteries opens on Sept. 10, and full information is available on the Open House Chicago website. 

‘Ship of Tolerance to dock at Navy Pier in September


(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

“The Ship of Tolerance,” a sailing ship and art piece, will dock at Navy Pier from Sept. 17 through Oct. 6. 

The ship is a free, public art installation at the City Stage lawn in Polk Bros Park and guests will have the opportunity to view and interact with the ship courtesy of the Ilya and Emilia Kabakov Foundation.

The mission of “The Ship of Tolerance” is to educate and connect youth from different continents, cultures and identities through the language of art, according to a Navy Pier press release. The conceptual art piece reflects how divergent cultures interpret tolerance and how these understandings overlap. The ship’s sails are stitched together from drawings, painted on silk by schoolchildren from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds to convey a message of tolerance and hope.

“We are all afraid of the unknown,” said artist Emilia Kabakov. “Like a child, you are afraid of something coming at you from the darkness of different religions, different races. We work with these fears—trying to eliminate them, trying to learn about the others—and trying to make our audience understand that knowledge is a tool, which helps with communication.”

Built in Siwa, Egypt in 2005 to engage children and young adults in an active discussion about tolerance, participants were exposed to different cultures and ideas while creating works of art. These drawings were later sewn together to form a mosaic sail, which was mounted atop a ship.

Past iterations of the project have taken place in Venice, Italy; St. Moritz, Switzerland; Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Miami; Havana; Brooklyn, New York; Moscow; Samara, Russia; Zug, Switzerland; Cham, Switzerland; Rome; Capalbio, Italy; Rostock, Germany; and Duren, Germany. The ship will sail around London in early September before arriving in Chicago.

For more information, visit navypier.org. 

Doorperson of the month: Harry Harris at Lake Point Tower

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Harry Harris has spent most of his life serving the federal government.

First, he served in the Marine Corps. He spent nine years in the service, and he enjoyed his time.

“I loved serving the country,” Harris said. “It was a different experience and I like to try new things. It had its hectic moments in there, but it was worth it. You get a different outlook.”

His work took him to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, to Hawaii and even to Cuba, to Guantanamo.

“I was there about six months,” he said of his time in Cuba. “It’s different now. You only could be on the base at that time, but it was beautiful. Well, what we could see. We couldn’t see outside the base.”

After that, Harris worked for decades walking the streets of Chicago delivering letters for the postal service. Harris said he likes to stay busy, so as he pounded the pavement during the day, he managed to squeeze in extra hours as a doorman at Lake Shore Tower, until he had to change shifts at the post office. After 25 years as a letter carrier, he retired.

“Management told me one of the doormen was retiring, and did I want to come back,” Harris recalled. “And I wanted to come back.”

That was in 2011, and he hasn’t looked back. Harris said he loves Lake Point Tower for the reasons many doorpeople love their buildings—the residents are great and he’s made friends at the job—but he added that the building itself is an attraction.

This year the building is 51 years old, and Harris said it still attracts tourists and visitors, people curious to see one of the more significant residential properties downtown. Architects John Heinrich and George Schipporeit designed Lake Point Tower. Both were proteges of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the curving, Y-shaped design continues to attract students and fans of architecture—most of whom get turned away except during the Chicago Architecture Center’s annual open house in October.

“This is one of the buildings that people always want to get in to,” Harris said. “Every day, we have people come in off the street and say, ‘can we go upstairs?’ and we say, ‘no sorry. It’s a private building.’”

When workers completed the building in 1968, it was the tallest residential tower in the world and while that distinction no longer stands, it does remain the only major residential structure on the lakefront side of Lake Shore Drive. Given the city’s prohibition on future development, the building will likely maintain that distinction.

All of these things make the building popular among residents and wannabe residents.

“What building do you know has a three-acre park on the third floor?” Harris asked. “It’s got a park, an outdoor pool an outdoor pond and BBQ area a waterfall, it’s a whole park. You have restaurants here with a beautiful view. You don’t gotta leave unless you want to.”

And few do. Harris said the building has about 875 units and they’re generally all full or if they’re not, they’re in the process of being bought. Units don’t stay empty too long. 

“I love the people here,” he said. “It’s like a family. They make me feel like I’m part of the family you got all these different families but they make you feel like you’re part of their family. It’s a beautiful atmosphere. I’ve been offered other jobs but I say no, I’m not going to leave Lake Point.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

Phone scammers steal millions annually, but better tech may offer help for consumers

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Three years ago Emily got a weird call.

Emily—not her real name—answered her cell phone and someone told her some recent computer work she’d had done had overbilled her. She was owed $299.

“But in order to (refund it), I had to give them access to my checking account, which is the stupidest thing you can do but they’re so good at this and they sound so sincere,” she said.

Instead, the refund set in motion a scam that lasted years and drained tens of thousands from Emily’s bank account. Once the scammers had her account, they deposited a refund almost $10,000 in excess of the refund amount, only to call back, apologize for the so-called mistake and then demand a wire transfer of $10,000 to make up for their error.

Of course, there was no error. The check they deposited was no good, but it showed up in Emily’s account before it was flagged, so as far as Emily could tell, someone really had mistakenly deposited thousands of dollars in her account.

Emily lives downtown and she’s retired, but phone scams can happen to anyone and they’re not rare. And even though Emily is one of the lucky ones—she ended up getting most of her money back—she is so embarrassed about what happened she only agreed to speak anonymously.

After the scammers called her to report their overpayment, they told her she needed to transfer the excess money from a specific Wells Fargo branch in Evanston.

“The most surprisingly thing was, I got the cab and I said I need to go to a Wells Fargo bank on Howard Street in Evanston,” she said. “We were driving and we weren’t very far and the cab driver said, ‘I know exactly where that bank is because I took another woman there about your age yesterday and I said, ‘Oh man, this is just a huge scam.’”

But, in case it wasn’t, she went anyway because scammers can be very persuasive.

Scammers can spin convincing stories but these days they’re also aided by telephone technology, a resource that once protected or at least warned consumers if something seemed fishy.

No longer.

Tom Kossow is the director of the Midwest region office of the Federal Trade Commission, the federal office in charge of protecting consumers. Kossow said scammers can imitate legitimate-sounding businesses or government offices and these scams bring in millions every year.

“We received 143,000 thousand complaints last year $55 million dollars in reported losses,” Kossow said.

With cell phones, everyone has access to caller ID, but caller ID is irrelevant in the age of VoIP systems or voice over internet protocol. VoIP systems are cheap or free to set up. The system routes a phone call through the Internet and in that way, the original phone number may be masked and a fake or even another legitimate phone number can be passed off as the call’s origin.

Kossow said one current popular scam involves Social Security imposter calls.

“Consumers are receiving calls from a spoofed number that shows it’s the Social Security Administration,” he said. “Victims will be told their Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity.”

This is a variation on another classic scam, a call from the IRS requesting immediate payment. Scammers then request payment via gift card or money transfer or another anonymous payment system.

“The Social Security Administration is not going to call you with this sort of request,” Kossow said.

But scammers will and they have. Kossow said in the past 12 months his offices received 76,000 reports of this scam.

Kossow said if someone is the victim of a scam—or if someone knows a victim—they can call 1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357 or they can report the scam online at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

If the scammer is based in the United States, Kossow said consumers should also complain to the Better Business Bureau and the state’s attorney general’s office.

“Both of those organizations mediate complaints so they will contact the company and let them know they received a complaint about you,” Kossow said. “One thing we found out with people who operate frauds is, they know they are operating a fraud so they want to keep their complaints low, so they will often issue a refund at that point just so they can tell those organizations that they issued a refund.”

Finally, there is a bright spot for wary consumers. Some cell phone carriers are investing into call blocking or better caller ID technology to alert consumers for would-be scammers. Kossow said consumers can check with their phone provider to learn about those options and people can use Nomorobo, an app which alerts users to robo calls and works on Android and iPhone systems. This is one of the few outside apps the federal government does recommend, Kossow said.

“A few years ago the FTC issued a challenge to technologists and offered a reward to come up with technology that would block illegal robocalls and the winner of the challenge was Nomorobo and now that is generally available.”

Preservation Chicago aims to save the fabric of Streeterville


(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger

Preservation Chicago champions Chicago’s legendary architecture and is working to preserve the character of neighborhoods. The nonprofit is behind recent efforts to landmark 15 post-fire mansions in Streeterville and River North. These buildings include 42 and 44-46 E. Superior Street and the building that houses restaurant Les Nomades (222 E. Ontario).

Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, explains that “the proposed Near North landmark district has received preliminary landmark status. It has received a report from the Department of Planning and Development Preservation Division.” The process can take more than a year but sometimes “a demolition permit is expedited by three months.” 

The three buildings on Superior had an active demolition permit, which helped precipitate these landmarking efforts. To be eligible, the buildings have to meet at least two designation criteria as well as integrity criteria; in this case, there was enough historic significance to help make the case for landmarking efforts.

Part of the landmarking process requires consent of the building’s owners who have 45 days or of no more than 120 days with an extension to make a decision in accordance with the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance.  That period ends on November 4th, according to Peter Strazzabosco, Deputy Commissioner, Chicago Department of Planning and Development. If any owners reject the proposal, there will be a public hearing.

Founded in 2001, Preservation Chicago has had their share of wins and loses; Prentice Women’s Hospital, located at 333 E. Superior, was demolished in 2013 despite efforts of advocates like Preservation Chicago. The building had been built by Bertrand Goldberg, who was also behind Marina City. 

But Miller explains that the loss of the building “did force Northwestern and the city to have robust discussion about protecting the historic buildings that form that Chicago Avenue wall” including the Montgomery Ward Memorial Building, Wieboldt Hall, and the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. However, Miller explains that the nonprofit is not against development but wants to “encourage sensitive development.” 

“We want to see buildings preserved and to avoid bigger taller buildings that have an impact on the quality of life,” Miller explains. These smaller buildings help keep the character of the neighborhood and provide homes for local businesses. 

“These buildings give a sense of neighborhood from another age and add to the charm and vision of Michigan Avenue,” Miller says. Miller questions: “Are we killing the golden goose? by overdeveloping Streeterville and River North.

Preservation Chicago will continue in its work to help preserve the character of Chicago in Streeterville and all the other neighborhoods in Chicago.

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