Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

“I have never been more scared in my life,” said Patrick O’Brien, owner of Scratch Restaurant Group (SRG). “My hope is not to close any of my restaurants, but this feels like a funeral.”

O’Brien, owner of Scratch on Lake, District Kitchen and Tap, Scratch Kitchen, and Lathrop House, was not surprised by the second wave of mandated dining room closures but fears the lack of federal stimulus money will make this a fatal blow to an already fragile industry.

“This is the worst of the worst scenarios,” said O’Brien. “Unless people are dipping into their personal funds to survive, there is absolutely no chance this won’t be the end for most.”

Scratch Kitchen is the original restaurant and is located at 7445 Madison in Forest Park. Scratch on Lake is at 733 Lake St. in Oak Park. District Kitchen and Tap is at 220 Harrison St. in Oak Park. And just recently opened is Lathrop House at 26 Lathrop in Forest Park.

O’Brien is aware of the many restaurants that decided to stay open during this second shutdown and commends them for their decision to defy the mandate. But he has opted to utilize a loophole in the state mandate to position his SRG establishments for survival. He announced via social media:

“We will be taking reservations for groups up to 25 people. We have four restaurants with seven private areas, meaning we can safely and still following CDC recommendations, take seven reservations every 90 minutes.”

Fears of losing long term customers inspired O’Brien to think creatively rather than operating in complete defiance of the state mandate. While the new coronavirus restrictions put in place last Wednesday banned all indoor dining in suburban Cook County restaurants, “meetings, social events, gatherings” of 25 guests or less are still allowed.

O’Brien aims to keep SRG private gatherings CDC compliant. They will not mix reservation groups and all events are limited to 90 minutes. Masks are required for all guests and staff and can only be removed while seated and eating.

“Everyone is wracking their brains on how to get through this,” said O’Brien. “There is no stance that goes unopposed on this issue. I feel like I am being responsible.”

Reaction online has been mixed. O’Brien admits “it isn’t fun” dealing with people who disagree with his decision but acknowledges everyone is entitled to their opinion. Many people shared his post to help spread the word and offered words of encouragement. Several parties have made reservations giving O’Brien a glimmer of hope.

“I don’t doubt the severity or danger of this virus,” said O’Brien. “But if this isn’t a solution, I don’t believe there is one. After this I don’t know of any other ways to survive.”

To date no one has reached out to O’Brien suggesting he cannot host private events in his restaurant spaces.

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