Chicago restaurant chain Budlong Hot Chicken for sale?

After starting Budlong in Chicago, Leonard moved to Colorado in 2017, where he now operates five restaurants. He went back and forth monthly before the pandemic, but COVID travel restrictions kept him from returning. Making day-to-day business decisions as a restaurant operator, especially amid evolving COVID restrictions, isn’t easy by far, he said.

“If it wasn’t for COVID, I probably wouldn’t be selling,” he said. “I would open more stores in the Loop. We had planned stores for the airport and the suburbs.

Budlong had seven locations in Chicago before the pandemic hit. It closed a Merchandise Mart store and, after a six-month recovery last summer, also permanently closed its spot in Loop’s Revival Food Hall.

“After two years of a pandemic and constantly rotating operators have had to do to survive, it would be an understandable choice to leave the company, especially if they have a decent enough exit ramp in place to do so,” Kevin said. Schimpf. , director of research and industry insights at market research firm Technomic. “In the case of Budlong, the chicken sandwich space now needs to reach a competitive saturation point, which could also play a role.”

Business interruptions related to the pandemic have particularly affected the restaurant sector. Many still struggle financially. The second half of 2021 was consumed by efforts to recover revenue lost during the closures in the first part of the year. Then, just as the holidays, which are usually the most lucrative time for restaurants, approached, the omicron variant caused many operators to shut down for indoor dining.

Some Chicago restaurants opted to remain closed for part of January to keep operating expenses low while many consumers hunkered down. Loop operators fared less well, as omicron caused many downtown businesses to push back back-to-office dates for the umpteenth time.

Added to this are inflation, supply chain issues and a tight labor market. Two years into the pandemic, the ice on which restaurants operate remains paper-thin.

Experts say restaurant closures typically follow each COVID wave by about three months. Some stories have already surfaced. Lost Lake in Logan Square closed last month, claiming the omicron push did. January is the busiest time for the tropical cocktail bar, and it couldn’t resist the loss.

About 280 restaurants in Chicago closed permanently in the last quarter of 2021, according to data from Datassential. During the same period in 2019, only 23 closed. Openings were also down.

“COVID has definitely changed the landscape of how we operate the business,” Leonard said. “Downtown Chicago I think has a future, it’s just a little dark right now in the Loop.”

Leonard opened his first Budlong location in Lakeview in 2016. That location closed four months later, in a bid to distance himself from company co-owner Phil Tadros, who has racked up a history of lawsuits and investors and partners unhappy. Leonard had a separate company that operated the Revival Food Hall site, Budlong’s second outpost.

Budlong’s current locations are in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, inside the Kitchen United Mix take-out food hall in River North and in the Urban Space Food Hall in the Loop.

About Vivian J. Smith

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