Restaurants finally open, suddenly closed

Worries shutter patios in Oak Park, Forest Park

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

The threat of vandalism and looting related to the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd impacted local restaurants beginning on Sunday evening. The upheaval came days after Illinois entered phase three of Governor J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois recovery program allowing patio dining at local restaurants. As violence loomed restauranteurs, fearing property damage, quickly stowed away patio furniture and sent their cooks and waitstaff home to keep their customers and employees safe. 

Il Vicolo

 Il Vicolo, 116 N. Oak Park Ave, closed at 5:30 on Sunday evening despite having an abundance of patio reservations. The Village of Oak Park recommended business operators should prepare "to close should they feel it necessary."

"I would have liked a little more direction last night," said manager Andrew Bejlovec. "We checked in with a few other restaurants and we as a block we decided to close up to keep our customers and staff safe."

Il Vicolo, like all local restaurants, has been struggling to survive during the COVID-19 outbreak and welcomed the return of patio dining last Friday to help boost the Italian restaurant's seating capacity. Just two days later, however, threats of vandalism and violence impacted operating hours. Bejlovec would have like to have seen police in the area communicating with restaurant owners exactly how safe it was to be out and about

"It feels like war time," said Bejlovec, "This is a tough balancing act. It was a difficult decision to close, but we know we did the right thing. We hope the violence doesn't come to Oak Park."

Il Vicolo is currently taking patio reservations for lunch and dinner. Should the restaurant need to close early because of threats of violence, Bejlovec assures Il Vicolo will clearly communicate changes to customers holding reservations.

Scratch on Lake

"I didn't have much information when I closed Scratch on Lake for the day," said owner Patrick O'Brien. "but I had already closed my Forest Park location, so I decided to do the same at my Oak Park restaurants."

Oak Park had been cooperative in helping Scratch on Lake,  733 Lake St., Oak Park, reopen their patio as swiftly as possible and just days after opening threats of volatile protests forced the burger joint to close early yesterday.

As the sun came up the next morning, however, O'Brien, brought the patio back to life on Lake Street. He noted that big box stores seem to be most targeted by looters and felt comforted by fact the Lake Street construction protected his restaurant from potential vandals.  On the flipside, O'Brien opted to keep District Kitchen and Tap and Scratch Kitchen and Lounge open for carry out and delivery only. O'Brien is prepared to pack up the Lake Street patio again if it becomes necessary.

"This is all random and people are on high alert," said O'Brien. "I do feel demoralized. This feels like a gut punch right after we were able to open again."

Amy's Winehouse

Mark Callahan, co-owner of Amy's Winehouse, 7235 W. Roosevelt Rd., Forest Park, lives above his restaurant. When Forest Park police entered the area to close up nearby Walgreens, they stopped by the restaurant to encourage the owner to close for the day.

"It all started around 4 p.m.," said Callahan. "They told me I had a constitutional right to stay open but said it would be safer if I closed for the day."

This came as just another blow to Amy's Winehouse. Business at the Roosevelt Road eatery has been down 80 percent since COVID-19 closed dining rooms in Illinois and the building suffered significant flood damage in mid-May. Now, days after reopening his secluded restaurant patio, volatile circumstances are impacting his business once again.

"I think everyone is wary of what could be next," said Callahan who is looking into terrorist and flood insurance for his business. "If these people are not held accountable for the death [of George Floyd] this could be restoked all over again."

Callahan looks forward to the day when more people feel ready to venture out into the world again. For those that do, Amy's Winehouse offers carry-out, delivery and patio seating.

"Nothing lasts forever, and we will try our best to outlast this," said Callahan.


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