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From Molecular Gastronomy to Takeout meals: Alinea’s COVID-19 story

It is not breaking news that the hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus. With people confined to their houses and governments applying strict regulations on businesses and mobility, many restaurants have been forced to shut indefinitely. This has had a considerable effect on many restaurant businesses, resulting in furloughs, layoffs and even bankruptcy.

But let’s take a look at how one of the world’s leading 3-star Michelin restaurants, Alinea has dealt with the unprecedented situation and has rapidly innovated its restaurant concept to stay afloat in the center of a global pandemic.

If you have never heard of Alinea, I am very surprised! Alinea is Chicago’s only 3 Michelin star restaurant, headed by executive chef Grant Achatz, and co-owned by Nick Kokonas. The restaurant has been consistently ranked in the Top 50 restaurants in the world since it first received its 3 Michelin stars back in 2010. The restaurant specializes in molecular gastronomy and experimental cuisine with 15+ course tasting menus. Alinea famously starred in Netflix’s ‘Spinning Plates’ documentary, where the world was introduced to Grant Achatz as he battled stage 4 cancer, all while working towards opening Alinea, together with Nick Kokonas. In recent years, Achatz has also appeared in Netflix’s Chef’s Table and as a guest judge on The Final Table.

In March 2020, the Governor of Illonois announced all restaurants and bars in the state to be shut in order to battle the spread of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Alinea, located in Chicago was also on this list, and thus was forced to seize its operations. Luckily, Alinea was prepared with not just 1 contingency plan, but 4! These contingency plans were prepared with different outcomes based on the severity of the effects of COVID-19 on their restaurant. Currently, the severest of the plans has been implemented. What does their current contingency plan involve?

  • The leaders of the restaurant immediately suspended their own salaries.
  • The company’s 300+ Chicago employees were placed on furlough and provided with a $1000 stipend.
  • Before the shutdown, strict hygiene and social distancing practices were put into place for all employees: meticulous and timed handwashing, temperature measuring of all employees upon arrival and designated work areas were implemented to avoid the spread of the virus.

But this was not enough for Alinea, co-owner Nick Kokonas, who with their team, worked tediously to launch a new version of their restaurant booking application Tock, to transform the application to include a to-go option. In the span of 6 days, the fine dining, molecular gastronomy restaurant transformed into a take-out restaurant.

Kokonas tweeted on March 18th:

“Here’s something else I thought I’d never write… Alinea To Go is now live! First week –> Beef Short Rib Wellington / 50-50 Mashed / Creme Brulee. As a result we’ve already ‘hired back’ staff. Any profits will be shared amongst the whole staff.”

Since its launch, Alinea has transformed its menu from molecular gastronomy, to affordable 3-course comfort food meals for take-away. In its first week, Alinea sold 1000 meals a night, at a price of $34.95 (around 32e), and has since been able to rehire some of its furloughed staff already. If you had always dreamed of dining at the acclaimed Alinea, now you can do so, from the comfort of your own home, and without a $400 price tag.

Jokes aside, it is sure that the effects of COVID-19 will be felt by the industry worldwide for months to come, and the future for many restaurants is still uncertain. But, in the midst of this all, it is inspiring and reassuring to see such creative solutions in the center of a global pandemic. Many restaurants are following suit, and have launched take-away and delivery options, and even build-your-own-meal kits! In these trying times, we can do our best to support these initiatives and keep our favourite restaurants afloat for years to come.

Did you know, Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea, was a graduate from The Culinary Institute of America? If you would like to follow in his footsteps and build the foundations for your Michelin Star career, send us an email to and we can explain how you can pursue a CIA certification from the comfort of your own home!

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