Miller's Pub (S. Wabash between Adams and Monroe) welcomes NFL Draft attendees. (Michael Epstein/Medill)

Flash in the pan: NFL Draft impact on restaurants positive, but fleeting

By Michael Epstein

Restaurants, bars and snack shops around Grant Park cashed in on an influx of customers at the NFL’s Draft Town fan fest on Thursday, but business had already started reverting to normal levels on Friday for several of them.

Food purveyors hoped to cash in on NFL fans and tourists wandering the Grant Park area, selling them everything from sandwiches to smoothies, during the three-day football festival.

Bears-themed popcorn tins have been spread liberally around Chicago Kernel, a popcorn shop on S. State St. and Congress, which had a huge sales because of the NFL Draft on Thursday. (Mike Epstein/Medill)
Bears-themed popcorn tins have been spread liberally around Chicago Kernel, a popcorn shop on S. State St. and Congress, which had a huge sales because of the NFL Draft on Thursday. (Mike Epstein/Medill)

Fontano’s Subs, which sells sandwiches and pizza on Michigan Avenue a few blocks from Draft Town, had a steady uptick in business all week, said co-owner Jacquelyn Guida. The restaurant had lines out the door for lunch on Thursday and stayed open more than two hours late that night — until 11:30 p.m. — to cater to hungry fans looking to grab a bite after Draft Town closed.

Anticipating a surge of traffic after feeding crowds from past Grant Park gatherings, such as Lollapalooza, Guida’s husband and co-owner Frank Guida said he brought in extra part-time staff on Thursday to keep the lines moving. Although the store had some customers Friday, it was a far cry from Thursday’s numbers.

“Today was definitely slower,” Frank Guida said Friday afternoon. Jacquelyn Guida, however, said she’s confident that Draft Town will continue driving customers through the doors for the rest of the weekend.

Chicago Kernel, a popcorn shop in University Center a few blocks away from the Auditorium Theatre, had “record” sales on Thursday, more than four times what it normally has on a weekday from in-store sales, said assistant manager Amy Ruppel. Friday’s receipts, on the other hand, were on track for a normal day, she said.

Artist’s Cafe did not benefit from its seemingly ideal location on South Michigan Ave. across the street from NFL Draft Town  in Grant Park. (Mike Epstein/Medill)
Artist’s Cafe did not benefit from its seemingly ideal location on South Michigan Ave. across the street from NFL Draft Town in Grant Park. (Mike Epstein/Medill)

Miller’s Pub on South Wabash Avenue benefitted from increased traffic starting a day before the draft began. The restaurant had seen about 20 percent more business per day since Wednesday, general manager Peter Orfanos said.

At least one restaurant owner, however, said the draft drove business away.

“It incapacitated our deliveries and our customers,” said Irene Makris, owner of Artist’s Café on South Michigan Avenue. “It was poor planning on the part of whoever’s in charge.”

Despite being situated directly across the street from Draft Town, Makris said business has been “horrible” since the city started rerouting traffic last week. She blamed increased security in the area, noting that nearby events normally bring business in, rather than keep it out.

“There were a lot of nice people, but we didn’t have access to them,” Makris said.