After pivoting to carryout during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Virtue — Eater Chicago 2019 Restaurant of the Year — has temporarily closed to focus on providing meals to health care providers at University of Chicago and Stroger hospitals. Chef Erick Williams has put community on the forefront for his Hyde Park restaurant that serves a unique take on Southern food.
“If we’re going to be qualified or quantified as essential workers, or categorized as essential workers, what does that mean to the immediate community?” Williams says, referring to the state’s stay-at-home order which allows essential business, like hospitals and grocery stores, to stay open.
Williams and his team at Virtue will deliver 200 meals Thursday afternoon to Stroger. Earlier this month, he began provided meals for workers at University of Chicago Hospital. The public can help the cause by donating to Virtue’s GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $46,000 as of Thursday afternoon. That money will go toward donated meals. Williams says the pace of work has been slow since March 17 when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed all dine-in restaurants and bars to stop the spread of COVID-19. Helping hospitals combating the disease gives Williams a renewed sense of purpose. Restaurant staff were successful converting to takeout only, but now, thanks to investors, they’ll focus on feeding health care workers.
Health care workers will get vegetarian and non-vegetarian options: a roasted chicken with a maple rub with macaroni cheese and charred broccoli with lemon; or spaghetti with red sauce, squash, charred broccoli and a side salad. They all come with cookies from Virtue pastry chef Becky Pendola.
The switch makes his work day a little shorter, and allows his staff to get some much needed rest during this public health crisis. Williams, who spent his Sunday night at the restaurant watching the Chicago Bulls documentary, the Last Dance, has also offered his services to actor and rapper Common, a Chicago native. When chef at MK in River North, Williams provided food to Common’s staff when he was in town for shows and book signings.
That existing relationship is why Common’s foundation picked Williams for a promotion with Bumble, the dating app. The company hatched an idea for a virtual date and brought in actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish (the Last O.G.). Virtue provided the food for Common in Chicago, while My 2 Cents LA and D’s Original Take Out Grill provided Haddish’s meal. Bumble also paid for meals for health care workers in both cities.
Williams says several hospitals have reached out and asked for assistance. As Virtue gains experience, Williams wants to expand the effort beyond Stroger and U of C. By covering more geographic ground, he can also provide jobs to friends who are currently unemployed due to the pandemic.