Above: Swift & Co., an industry-leading meatpacking firm, was located at Liberty and Water streets in the building that now houses Ardor Breads and Provisions. Photo courtesy of Peoria Historical Society, Bradley University Library
“I thought it would be really difficult to squeeze a bakery in here,” says Cody Scogin, founder and head baker at Ardor Breads and Provisions, as we walk the length of his new eatery on the Peoria riverfront. Located at 301 SW Water Street, the culinary hotspot was once the walk-in cooler for Swift & Company, one of the nation’s leading providers of beef and pork products. In the late 1800s, founder Gustavus F. Swift revolutionized the industry by using refrigerated railcars to ship fresh meat to markets around the country—including Peoria.
“There was a rail house, and they would bring the hams in off the railroad,” Scogin continues. “[The walls] were insulated with cork, so it was very cold. And then, where our bathrooms are now actually used to be the old smokeroom. It has the original fire brick on the wall and everything.”
It’s difficult to imagine opening a business in the middle of a global pandemic, yet Scogin had little choice on the timing. Its final health inspection notwithstanding, the place was ready to open in mid-March, just as Illinois restaurants and bars were forced to close to dine-in customers. When it finally opened in May, Ardor quickly proved to be a highlight of Peoria food and dining during this extraordinarily difficult year.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on businesses all over the country, but none have been hit harder than restaurants and bars, who have seen their already-tight margins squeezed to unsustainable lengths. In the absence of a vaccine, the future remains uncertain—but there are “a few things every person in Illinois can do to help your local restaurants and bars right now,” as Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association writes in this issue.
First and foremost, order from your favorite restaurants. “Go to the ones you’ve known and loved for years—as well as the new place around the corner,” he suggests. Order carryout or curbside if you aren’t ready to dine out yet, and consider purchasing a gift card for future use.
Peorians should be proud of the diverse culinary scene that’s arisen over the last decade, and grateful to chefs, restaurateurs, servers and restaurant workers everywhere. Now is the time to show your support! PS
—Jonathan Wright, Editor in Chief