Chef Jason Vincent is tired. For the past seven months, he's fought tooth and nail to save the restaurants he's worked his entire life to build. In Before Times, Giant was the kind of success story that every restaurateur hopes for—the cozy, 1,400-square-foot eatery was consistently packed from the moment it opened until last call. These days, the celebrated spot is hanging on by a thread. Even with 40 percent capacity indoors and a small patio out back, Vincent says that he’s operating at a small fraction of his usual revenue.
The restaurant owner’s worries are mounting, but he isn’t throwing in the towel. As the forecast chills, Vincent is taking Giant on the road with a food truck.
“I’m not pretending to be good at this,” Vincent says. “I could fall flat on my face and waste a bunch of money on a food truck, but I can’t be on the other side of this, turning on the sad music and hitting ‘closed’ on my business and say to myself, ‘Well, I didn’t try everything.’ I gotta try.”
The canary yellow truck will roam Chicago and park in residential neighborhoods for the lunch hour, serving pizza by the slice, burroti, old-fashioned doughnuts and Pretty Cool ice cream bars. Residents can also book the vehicle for private at-home catering gigs, complete with boozy beverages from sister spot Chef's Special Cocktail Bar.
It’s an idea that Vincent and his team have been tossing around since April. When he realized that neither the city nor the country had a solid plan to help small businesses survive the winter, he knew that he had to act. The final straw came when city officials shared the 600-plus ideas for “winterizing” outdoor dining—a move that solidified Vincent’s suspicion that the local government didn’t have a realistic game plan for restaurant owners.
“I appreciate the sentiment, but for people who are in the restaurant business, it’s dismissive,” Vincent says. “Shit costs money, tents cost money, heaters cost money. We’re operating at 10 percent of our total revenue. To be frank, it’s insulting.”
Vincent kicked the four-wheeled plan into high gear and built a mobile menu that centers around a pizza recipe that Giant sous chef Michael Gaia has been perfecting for months under the moniker Za Papa. The rectangular pies have a thick crust that's amplified by a burnt cheese halo and creative toppings like mortadella, almond pesto and homemade giardiniera.
Vincent admits that pivoting his wildly successful restaurant to a food truck has been tough. He reminisces aloud about the balance he once had—a dining room that was always booked solid, more time with his wife and kids, a hopeful outlook.
"It's infuriating, it's terrifying and it makes me very angry," he sighs. "But this is a wakeup call. No one is okay right now."
Giant's new food truck will make its maiden voyage this weekend, hitting the road Saturday and Sunday. To find out where the truck will be parked, follow Giant on Instagram for regular updates. And for fans of the delightfully cozy Logan Square restaurant, the brick-and-mortar location isn't going anywhere. Giant will remain open for takeout and delivery Wednesday through Sunday with a small number of tables available for dine-in guests.
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