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Fox & Obel Closure Catches Lunch Crowd Off Guard

 Some Streeterville residents who say they frequent the high-end grocer weren't shocked by the Health Department report that closed the store Monday.
Residents React to Fox & Obel Closure
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STREETERVILLE — High-end grocery store Fox & Obel was still shuttered Tuesday after a report from the Health Department forced an "emergency" closure Monday afternoon.

Area residents and workers swinging by 401 E. Illinois St. for snacks, lunches or their regular grocery shopping were surprised to find an iron gate blocking the store's entrance.

"I thought something might be up. I was there last Thursday, and the shelves were half-empty," said Robert Troch, who lives in Brooklyn but shops at Fox & Obel when visiting his parents, who live around the corner.

One frequent diner, South Loop resident Erin Murphy, said she saw workers emptying freezers near Fox & Obel's restaurant's bathrooms on July 5.

That's the same day the city's Health Department said it spotted more than 200 fruit flies and about 30 cockroaches in the store's bakery.

"The servers in the restaurant said [the freezers] all got shut off, and it was a few hours before people noticed, so all the food and everything was ruined," Murphy said. "They were really forthcoming about the mess and the lingering fish smell ... . [They said] they couldn't even reorder because they had nowhere to put the stuff."

Fox & Obel did not respond to requests for comment.

Gold Coast resident Tom Vaitsas said he was shocked to hear why the store was closed. He assumed after reading the sign that the cited "emergency" was unrelated to operations, he said.

"Oh my God, oh my God. I've never noticed anything like that," he said about the number of fruit flies and cockroaches. "I just stop by for coffee and small things like hummus sometimes. Now it makes me wonder about that, if they're making it in a kitchen like that."

But other shoppers who found the door locked Tuesday were more forgiving about Fox & Obel's problems with the Health Department.

Alfred Briauan, a part-time resident of the neighborhood, said he'd rather have a few fruit flies than produce coated with pesticides.

"You'll find [insects] in every place, especially when you deal with wine and fresh fruit," he said. "And on days when it's humid like this, you can't avoid it."

But Briauan said he does have limits.

"If they're crawling all over the food though, then I'd be on the phone with the Health Department myself."