When Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Illinois restaurants were allowed to open for patio dining on May 29, George’s Family Restaurant and Oak Park Brewing were ready to hit the ground running, but it took two weeks for the Oak Park restaurants to open for outdoor dining.
Unlike other areas in the village, restaurants located on the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue either have no patios or have skinny patios that do not meet the current spacing requirements without street closures to aid in creating extra space. Restaurant owners were responsible for submitting layout drawings and a written patio space proposal to village staff for consideration. Proposed plans included the use of barricades to block off parking spaces on Oak Park Avenue to create an outdoor dining venue.
“It is hard to understand how vital this is to our survival,” said Jim Cozzens, Oak Park Brewing owner.
While approval time has been rapid for outdoor patio plans in the village, the threat of overtime for village public works staff, barricade shortages, and recent storm damage delayed the process for Oak Park Avenue specifically.
Tammie Grossman, director of Development Customer Services at village hall, said the village had worked out an agreement with nearby Oak Park Township to utilize their parking lot as an outdoor dining location. Agreements were signed and dining could have commenced on Friday, June 5.
“We knew it was going to take a little bit of time –that’s why we worked with the township to get the use of the parking lot,” said Grossman. “We were trying to offer an alternative while we worked through this. The restaurants did not think the alternative was going to work.”
The village did not have budget authority to acquire additional barricades. An agenda item for the June 15 board meeting includes a $25,000 proposed budget amendment for the rental of additional jersey walls to help facilitate outdoor dining in the village.
“It took us a while to get it set up,” said Grossman. “Everyone is requesting barricades and we have a major construction project going on, a pandemic, and protests—so we are moving as quickly as we can.”
Restaurants opted not to utilize the parking lot option and barricades finally began arriving on Thursday June 12 to create patio dining options for George’s and Oak Park Brewing, but not before business owners had to call for help.
“It took some trustee intervention to get this done,” said Cozzens. “We had to get Deno Andrews to speak up for us.”
Cozzens knows few industries have been hit harder by COVID-19 than the restaurant industry. For Oak Park Brewing, getting outdoor seating was quite possibly the difference between closing forever or surviving.
“These businesses have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, make our community vibrant and employ numerous wonderful people,” said Village Trustee Deno Andrews. “Helping to give these businesses some tools they need to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic was my motivation to help secure outdoor seating.”
Johnny Konstantos of George’s Family Restaurant acknowledged both Deno Andrews and Trustee Simone Boutet advocated for his diner’s patio, but also knows Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and Tammie Grossman worked to find a solution.
“It was a struggle, but in the end, they got it done — it would have been catastrophic without it.” said Konstantos. “It is great he [Andrews] cared enough to help. We’ve had so much support. George’s isn’t going anywhere. “