Governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered all Illinois restaurants and bars to close at the end of business Monday, March 16, until March 30. Delivery, carry-out and curb-side pick-up will continue during the two weeks public dining rooms are closed to the public.
The announcement came on the heels of Pritzker’s well-voiced concerns that Illinois residents were not taking social distancing seriously enough. Much to the Governor’s chagrin, in the lead-up to Saint Patrick’s Day, people continued to gather in large groups in bars and restaurants in Chicago and beyond.
The decision was a logical one according to Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb of Oak Park who has opted to temporarily close his own Oak Park restaurant Maya del Sol, located at 144 S Oak Park Ave. The closure is effective Monday, March 16 and will re-open in stages and phases owners and management “feel are appropriate”
“This was a welcomed statement and the right thing to do;” said Abu-Taleb via phone, “we cannot deny the spread of this virus; we need to eliminate exposure and protect people above everything else.”
While the state’s decision has left restaurants reeling, clear communication and creative thinking appear to be the key to enduring mandated dining room closures. Some restaurants have increased sanitation practices while others are introducing curbside service to minimize contact between people and keep fragile businesses afloat. Another has opted to shut down entirely.
All restaurant owners we spoke to are grateful for broad community support and primarily concerned about the financial well-being of their hourly employees now that such strict regulations have been put in place.
Chef Paco of New Rebozo, located at 1116 Madison St, Oak Park, shared an open letter to Pritzker from Chicago’s independent chefs and restaurant owners specifically geared toward supporting furloughed restaurant workers. The post on Facebook noted the Governor is “acting bravely” and called for emergency unemployment benefits, pay roll tax suspension and rent and loan assuagement for hourly restaurant workers put at risk due to lost wages.
Read on for additional updates from restaurant owners in our Oak Park Eats community.
Madison Park Kitchen (MPK), located at 525 Madison St, Forest Park, has opted to shut down operations in response to Pritzker’s announcement.
“Yes, we’re closing for two weeks,” says Marigo Doulas, co-owner and manager of family owned MPK, “our employees are in shock and very upset, but we had no other choice.”
The diner does not offer delivery services and had already suffered a steep business decline. Last weekend the popular diner, who normally experiences wait times in excess of 30 minutes, sat nearly empty during peak business hours. Doulas indicated if mandated restaurant closures extend beyond March 30, it’s “going to be hard” for the Forest Park restaurant to survive.
“This is scary and the best way to show to support to restaurants now is to place an order,” said Brendan O’Connor, owner of Big Guys Stand located at 7021 Roosevelt Rd in Berwyn, “this is effecting everyone I know–no restaurants have three months in the bank; I doubt most could carry three weeks.”
O’Connor believes his small business is uniquely suited to this unprecedented situation. Ninety percent of the eight-year-old sausage stand’s business is carry-out based. In fact, he has experienced an increase in business over the past several days as a result of Saint Patrick’s Day event cancellations.
Big Guys will have corned beef dinners available through Tuesday and, after closing on Wednesday, will enhance their standard menu by offering family-style dinners available for delivery and curbside pick-up beginning on Thursday. O’Connor’s intends to offer substantial meals of high quality to feed a family of five for $30.
“Nobody believes this is going to last just two weeks and there is no buffer for most restaurants,” said O’Connor, “still, I can’t just lay-off my employees; they are family to me.”
In the days leading up to Pritzker’s announcement, One Lake Brewing located at 1 Lake St. in Oak Park, had anticipated and noticed a decrease in business. To compensate for the lost revenue, the young brewery began offering curbside pick-up.
“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the amount of people who want to support us,” said One Lake Brewery co-owner, Kristen Alfonsi, “we are now adding delivery as well as curbside pick-up and customers can order a gift cards from our website; they can be mailed, picked up or kept on file at the restaurant.”
Alfonsi expressed concern for the well-being of hourly staff members at One Lake Brewing, noting Pritzker’s announcement impacts them most significantly.
“Things are moving very fast around here,” said Alfonsi, “and we are taking this hour-by-hour.”
On Friday March 13th, just days before restaurant life came to a grinding halt, Kettlestrings Tavern, located at 300 S. Oak Park Ave in Oak Park opened for business.
“It’s unfortunate to open a restaurant during a pandemic,” said Kettlestrings Tavern co-owner, Wil Greenwald.
Kettlestrings had only been open for two days when we visited, but despite a steady stream of dine-in customers, Greenwald was already considering creating specials specifically geared toward take-out to support the newborn restaurant through a shutdown of this nature.
“The community has already responded very positively to Kettlestrings Tavern and has continued to show its support for our plans to offer discounted curb-side take out during this crisis,” said Greenwald after Pritzker’s announcement, “we will likewise support our team during this closure. We could not be prouder to be part of this wonderful community. Together, we will get through this challenging time,”
Rare Bird Preserves, located at 211 Harrison St in Oak Park, is known for peddling artisan jams, curds and other edible treats. In the face of these developments the shop, whose kitchens already meet strict FDA standards, has increased staff to ensure peak sanitation standards are met during this time.
The shop has transitioned to keeping all breads and pastries behind glass in a “sanitation zone” and has closed to foot traffic until March 31. In addition, the shop will not accept cash until further notice. In the meantime, bread and pastries will be available via pre-order only. Orders will be packed in advance by Rare Bird’s limited kitchen staff in our sanitized commercial kitchen and available via curbside pickup or delivery.
“We are experiencing cancellations of a large events we depend on,” said owner Elizabeth Madden, “but thinking creatively is what keeps small businesses strong.”
Dan and Brenna Velcich, co-owners of Burger Antics, located at 3740 Grand Blvd in Brookfield, are prioritizing the health and safety of their customers and are both fiercely committed to supporting their employees through this challenging time.
“We know our customers will be there for us when we can start serving them again,” said Dan Velcich, “but for now our main concern is working with our employees to help them apply for Covid-19 unemployment.”
While the Velcichs have opted to close Burger Antics for the next two weeks in hopes of completing small remodeling projects and a thorough cleaning, they made it clear they are willing to readjust their approach based on the true length of the mandated dining room closures and financial toll it takes on their business.
“No matter what our employees may come up against, my wife and I have made ourselves available to them,” says Dan Velcich.
And in neighboring North Riverside, Mother’s Day Restaurant, located at 8815 Cermak Rd, has significantly altered their approach to serving their loyal customers.
“I am putting a smiley face on and trying to have a positive attitude,” said co-owner and manager Pete Paleothodoros, “but things are touch and go at the moment.”
The 45-year old diner has a good carry-out following but had to reduce their staff to a just “a select few” to control costs during this shut down. Fear, uncertainty and stress are prevalent among Mother’s Day staff members according to Paleothodoros. The diner also shortened their hours of operation and has transitioned to a limited menu of soups, salads, sandwiches and breakfast items conducive to being carried out. Mother’s Day is also considering ways they can support their regular customers, some of whom eat three meals a day at the diner.
“We cannot survive on take-out orders alone,” said Paleothodoros, “my advice would be for people to stop cooking and pick up dinner.”