When it comes to restaurant groups enduring the pandemic, Alinea Group has stood out. It quickly transitioned to a successful takeout model when indoor dining shut down, then it found a temporary outdoor spot for its flagship Michelin three-star restaurant last summer and received $8.3 million from the government’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. But while the restaurants under the Alinea umbrella have survived, the pandemic has put a dent in expansion plans.
The group, led by Nick Kokonas and chef Grant Achatz, were set to open two restaurants in a $1 billion mixed-use mega-development in downtown Chicago in 2022. When the agreement with the 101-story St. Regis tower’s development company Magellan Group was announced a year ago, Kokonas said in a statement that, “We are excited to be a part of this amazing architectural wonder. We’ve been in discussions with Magellan for several years to determine how we can best partner on this project, and we look forward to bringing our vision to life.” Those plans have been scrapped.
In a letter to its investors (shared with Robb Report by Kokonas and originally reported by Eater Chicago), Magellan wrote that “Due to the impacts of Covid on staffing shortages and supply chain issues, The Alinea Group has made the decision to focus on the company’s existing restaurants. They have determined now is not the right time for them to take on this project.”
While Kokonas didn’t want to get into specifics about walking away from the project, he did share that the supply chain issues relate to equipment and construction. He added that Alinea is still trying to get its staffing back to what it was pre-pandemic. “Demand is higher than ever, but our capacity is limited simply by having enough staff and time to train everyone to 2019 levels,” he told Robb Report. That means devoting the company’s energy to Alinea, Next, Roister, Aviary and the Office.
Magellan told investors that in Alinea’s absence, it is currently in discussions with other another potential culinary partner to take over restaurant spaces in the luxury tower designed by acclaimed architect Jeanne Gang’s firm Studio Gang. The residents who have already moved into the luxury condos (the 12-story St. Regis Hotel comes next year), will have to wait a little longer to see what restaurant will join their list of on-site amenities.