Restaurant owners are, however, eternal optimists. We are on the road to reconstruction, but we still need the help of the local authorities to make it happen. That’s why I’m joining my fellow restaurateurs and calling on Chicago City Council to rise up and embrace the Fast Track Signage initiative, which is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chi Biz Strong plan.
One of the best things about Chicago is the thousands of independent restaurants in our 77 neighborhoods. That’s why we are the culinary capital of the United States. To help our neighborhood restaurants recover from COVID-19, the city has already adopted the majority of the Chi Biz Strong initiative, which, among other things, extended the cap on fees that delivery services can charge to restaurants and facilitated the opening of restaurants in recently vacated premises. Adopting the Fast Track Signage initiative will build on this and send a clear message to the restaurant community that City Hall is doing everything possible to support our businesses.
Currently, restaurateurs and other business owners have to wait for an individual ordinance to be passed by the entire city council – which meets once a month – just to put a basic sign or awning over their business. When you are considering opening a new restaurant and your city councilor has already approved your sign, an operator still has to wait 60 days to install it. Without a sign you cannot promote your business, it is much harder for diners to find you and you lose critical income. This process is unnecessary bureaucracy – in fact, Chicago is the only major city in the country with this archaic rule, and it can absolutely make or break a restaurant. Even in the best case scenario, 95 to 97 cents of every dollar a restaurant earns goes directly into food, staff, and everything that goes with the management of the place. Our restaurants, from Little Village to Rogers Park, from Pullman to Austin, have no time to waste if they are to stay in business, keep their employees, and continue to serve our communities.
Over the past year and a half, the city has taken steps to ease the day-to-day hardship of restaurants by making it easier to operate outdoors, extending licenses and cutting red tape. The Fast Track Initiative is the next critical step we need to streamline the way restaurants open and invest more in the city.
I own four restaurants in Chicago and, looking to the future, plan to continue to grow my restaurant group in this great city. Like many of my colleagues, I can only expand if I know the city supports me. The Fast Track Initiative is the starting point we need to build back better than ever. A vote for this initiative is a vote for the future of our city and its restaurants.
Sam sanchez is the owner of Third Coast Hospitality in Chicago.