As winter looms, it has become important for restaurants not only to cultivate comfortability among patrons through frequent deep cleaning and sanitizing, but many establishments are also taking bolder steps to build trust by scientifically protecting their customers. 

“The next three months are critical for restaurants,” said Anthony Gambino, owner of Cucina Paradiso, 814 North Blvd. “The roughest waters are ahead of us with outdoor dining severely limited by colder weather.”

As Gambino prepares Cucina Paradiso to celebrate its 25th anniversary, he is simultaneously grappling with the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the quarter century old business.

“Thirty-five degrees is 35 degrees. It is just too cold,” said Gambino matter-of-factly. “We had a small pile of money to spend as wisely as possible. I consulted with my general managers and we all agreed we should spend the money inside.”

Gambino began exploring air purification systems but did not want desperation to lead his team to make a bad decision. He had relied on Aria Group Architects, just down the block at 830 North Blvd., to bring his restaurant to life 25 years ago> So he opted to reach out to Jim Lencioni, Aria’s president and senior architect, before installing the iWave-C air purification system in Cucina Paradiso.

Aria Group Architects is a full-service architecture and design firm specializing in restaurant and hospitality projects including California Pizza Kitchen, Cooper’s Hawk, Shake Shack and numerous local restaurants. COVID-19 has not left the design firm unscathed — Aria’s restaurant design business is just 10 percent of what it was at this time last year, but Lencioni remains committed to helping local restaurants maximize their fall and winter business through design recommendations and resource sharing.

“Over the summer, restaurants worked hard to secure tents and awnings to get some on-site business during the summer season. Now they are terribly afraid of losing that business,” said Lencioni. “There are people out there claiming various air purification systems are scientifically correct when that isn’t the case.”

Lencioni put Gambino in touch with BTR Engineering,  104 N. Oak Park Ave, to get an impartial opinion on the iWave-C system. The verdict was overwhelmingly positive. 

The system has a hefty price tag, but a solid reputation for doing exactly what it claims. The iWave-C uses bipolar ionization to safely clean the air, without producing ozone, by killing airborne mold, bacteria and viruses.

Gambino consulted with his managers and acted swiftly to have the iWave installed at Cucina Paradiso.

“Our goal is to make Cucina Paradiso as safe as possible for everybody. People who are already comfortable eating inside are even happier now that we have the system,” said Gambino. “Time will tell if people who are on the fence about coming in will now that we have added the system.”

In addition to turning toward technology for long term solutions, Aria recommends prioritizing wind protection, lighting, and artificial heat sources to extend outdoor dining as long as possible. Additionally, restaurants owners should try to hang on to the increased carry out business while simultaneously moving toward indoor dining.

“Our local environment is more challenging because of our hard Midwest winters,” said Shannon Sterne,  Aria project designer. “We really encourage people to play up take-out especially if they are struggling to get enough diners inside to fill their restaurant to the allotted capacity.”

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