Chicago’s COVID-19 test positivity rate is 8.2%. Health experts say 5% is a serious sign of risk and that’s adding to anxiety as tempers soar in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. The in-state dining ban went into effect Friday morning in Chicago, forcing restaurants and diners to face new regulations as lawmakers try to defend their decisions.
After Governor JB Pritzker took the initiative to make the announcement on Tuesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made her own statement on Thursday, pushing back the curfew for restaurants and bars from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. These locations now have an additional hour for outside service. In addition, restaurants and bars can now sell alcoholic beverages to take out until 11 p.m. The cut-off time for sales at grocery stores and liquor stores remains at 9 p.m.
State guidelines ban all indoor dining in bars and restaurants for an indefinite period of time and require reservations for outdoor seating. Gatherings should be limited to 25 people. Pickup and delivery can continue.
Restaurant owners across the city are dealing with the fallout. the Grandstand spoke with eight restaurant owners, all white men with well-known restaurants – a group that included Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), Kevin Hickey (Duck Inn) and Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill). They said they wasted money spent on fancy ventilation systems aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 indoors.
These frustrations are shared beyond the from the grandstand cohort. At the modern Indian restaurant Rooh in West Loop, owner Manish Mallick says he’s “spent tens of thousands of dollars” on plexiglass, Environmental Protection Agency-certified cleaning chemicals, tents, in patio plants and air purifiers. He has just bought a hexadome tent from Amsterdam and will equip it with infrared heaters. “This should be one of the nicest tents in Chicago,” Mallick says.
Down the street from Rooh on Randolph, Anna Posey, co-owner of playful Scandinavian-inspired Elske, says she and husband David thought about spending the money on igloos. But they feared for their safety. Instead, they temporarily closed Elske until spring.
“It’s sad to see all these restaurants spending this money to stay open and close,” she says.
The cost of food is also an underestimated expense, Posey says. A restaurant could spend nearly $20,000 to reopen, she says. While some of this food could be donated, restaurants are suffering significant losses.
Meanwhile, in recent state and city press releases, lawmakers made sure to mention government funding programs, trying to entice restaurant owners to take advantage of the funds. These are small consolation prizes as federal aid has yet to materialize. At Korean-Polish restaurant Bridgeport Kimski, executive chef Won Kim says “it’s a no-brainer” that the money would help.
“There’s only one fact and that’s that we need all the help and support we can get,” Kim says. “We need straight money – not your $1,200 check that will feed us for six months – but real money.”
Some diners are concerned about how to handle prepaid reservations and refunds. Nick Kokonas, co-founder of booking app Tock, responds via email that they have taken steps to ensure customers get their money back, but it’s up to each restaurant to set their own policies and to issue its own refunds. In March, with “literally tens of millions of dollars” in reservations that were canceled due to COVID-19, all but about $9,000 was refunded by restaurants to customers. Tock covered that remaining amount, writes Kokonas. Tock has since added an extra layer of consumer protection: money for prepaid reservations is now held in separate bank accounts. The money is only released after a meal, writes Kokonas.
The indoor dining ban is forcing restaurants to explore legal challenges and consult with lawyers. It’s more risky for restaurants in Chicago (compared to smaller municipalities) to challenge the governor’s term. Chicago lawmakers have more licensing authority for restaurants and bars within city borders. For example, the city could revoke a liquor license in the same way that it closes establishments it deems problematic. It’s a proven strategy that aldermen have used to shut down bars.
On Thursday, Pritzker defended his methods and brought in Dr. Emily Landon, UChicago Medicine’s executive medical director for infection prevention and control. At a press conference on Thursday, Landon reiterated that restaurants and bars were more dangerous than, say, queuing in a store because customers have to remove their masks when eating and drinking. Pritzker called for “crackdowns” because the numbers were going in the wrong direction.
Some are downplaying current COVID-19 statistics, arguing that hospital admissions have not soared. It’s something Republican Mayor of Orland Park Keith Pekau and Lightfoot – a Democrat – have both said.
The Illinois Restaurant Association held a press conference Friday morning calling on Pritzker to restore a limited number of meals indoors and take a “more reasonable and pragmatic approach.” President and CEO Sam Toia reiterated that the association does not support bad actors. “We want restaurants to follow all necessary safety requirements,” he says.
Toia says restaurants are being singled out unfairly and plans to meet with Pritzker’s office next week. The association has not announced its intention to file its own complaint – several restaurateurs are asking the association to file a class action. This could make lawsuits easier for restaurateurs. Instead, the group is partnering with the National Restaurant Association’s Legal Center to support any restaurants that file lawsuits. They will file amicus briefs in existing cases to help you. Toia says restaurants “deserve their days in court” challenging executive orders that close restaurants indoors.
Jodi Fyfe, Founder and CEO of Paramount Events, spoke at the press conference. Paramount, which organizes private events, had also closed its West Loop restaurant, Eden, over the summer. She says that at the peak of her business, she employed 536 people. Now Paramount employs 24.
“What the governor is doing is killing us,” she said. “He’s losing our jobs, we’re losing jobs, we can’t pay our rent, we can’t pay our mortgages, we can’t pay health care.”
Seven restaurants in suburban Park Ridge are among the first to challenge the indoor mandate. The group – which includes Holt’s, Shakou and the Original Pancake House – applied for a temporary restraining order in hopes of stopping Pritzker’s order. A hearing is scheduled for Friday, according to a representative.
There are a few motivations for any challenge. One is political, as Republican supporters believe Democratic Gov. Pritzker has stretched his executive powers too far. They believe the governor has no authority to shut down their business beyond an emergency period. Some of the criticism leveled at Pritzker, including comments on a private Facebook group that encourages restaurants to keep their dining rooms open, are anti-Semitic in nature.
Two Chicago restaurants have gone public on social media about their desire to challenge the ban. On Friday morning, an employee at Bacon and Jam Family Breakfast and Brunch in Mount Greenwood said it would remain open for indoor dining this weekend. Red Barrel, a neighborhood restaurant in Archer Heights near Midway International Airport, also appeared set to openly violate the ban starting Tuesday. “It is with the utmost respect for our customers, staff and family that we at Red Barrel Restaurant have made the decision to remain open for indoor dining at this time,” a Facebook post read. October 27. “Red Barrel is a small, local, family owned and operated business. It is essential for the well-being of our hardworking staff and the survival of our business to remain open. »
Two days later, the post had attracted almost 150 comments and had been shared more than 100 times. That afternoon, however, the post was deleted from the page and no follow-up statement has been issued since. Reached by phone Thursday, the owner of Red Barrel declined an interview.
- Chicago restaurants have spent thousands on air filtration and other indoor dining safety measures – only to be left out in the cold [Tribune]
- Pritzker: As COVID-19 surges in Illinois, ‘people’s lives are at stake’ [WTTW]