Chicago restaurants close for winter as Illinois COVID-19 cases rise

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Operators across the city are weighing the cost of doing business under tight and ever-changing restrictions, and some are concluding that a winter break makes more sense financially. The temporary closures are expected to end in the spring, when rooftops and patios can reopen and, they hope, dining capacities will increase.

Coco Pazzo Cafe in Streeterville closed Saturday, said Jack Weiss, president of Coco Pazzo Restaurants. It plans to reopen in April.

The restaurant will “minimize our expenses, go into hibernation,” Weiss said. “We will also be offering delivery, and hopefully this will be enough to cover our mandatory operating expenses.”

The restaurant’s River North location will remain open, Weiss said. But a winter break made the most sense for the Streeterville spot, which saw sales down just 20-30% from previous years. Funds for the Paycheck Protection Program had dwindled, and with the number of COVID cases rising, Weiss said he doesn’t think the situation will improve over the winter.

“I have no optimism about the first quarter of next year,” he said.

It wasn’t just COVID-19 that was causing distress, Weiss said. Streeterville was hit hard by looting and civil unrest over the summer, and signs remain on the windows of many retailers. People still fear shopping and dining in the area, he said. The restaurant owner agreed to let him defer rent during the months of closure.

Landlord agreements are key when it comes to shutting down for a few months, operators say.

Dove’s Luncheonette in Wicker Park is working with its landlord to honor its lease and continue to pay rent while it’s closed for the winter, said Donnie Madia, co-owner of One Off Hospitality, which owns the restaurant.

The restaurant closed in late August and is not expected to reopen until spring, Madia said. The restaurant at the counter has 41 seats including a common table of 10 seats.

The catering group was able to find work for the dozen employees at other One Off locations, which cemented the decision, Madia said.

“From a financial standpoint, it just made more sense that we didn’t cover food costs, labor costs and beverage costs,” he said. .

One Off Hospitality has already permanently closed its Michelin-starred French bistro Cafe Cancale and Blackbird due to the pandemic.

Other restaurants that have announced they will be closed for at least part of the winter include Elske in the West Town neighborhood, Italian restaurant Nico Osteria on the Gold Coast and Ballast Point Brewery in Chicago.

Closing for the season is a wise move for some restaurants trying to stem the bleeding, said Darren Tristano, CEO of Chicago-based food industry research consultancy FoodserviceResults.

Unfortunately, that might not be enough to keep them alive, he said. Along with restrictions and rising COVID case numbers, restaurants are also dealing with a clientele that likely won’t be comfortable eating indoors for some time.

“Most likely some of these restaurants will close permanently,” Tristano said. It will probably be “at least a year before we get reasonable demand in restaurants.”

The Elm at La Grange is preparing to close its indoor dining room this week in accordance with Pritzker’s edict, owner Dan Spain said. Fortunately, the restaurant has a roof that can accommodate 75 people.

Yet this is only a fraction of its total capacity of 600 people. The Elm just opened earlier this year. Spain has said it plans to keep it open all winter, but is very frustrated with the crackdown on its industry.

“My workforce will be greatly reduced. I will have to take time off,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

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