Summer turns to fall. Can restaurants regroup again?

Will diners bring their parkas to a heated tent for dinner?

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

The current right-of-way permits for outdoor dining in Oak Park are valid through Oct. 31 and they will not be extended. Jersey walls and barricades, used to create street side dining, need to be taken down because of snow removal needs that impact the village every year.

"The 10/31 date is later than prior years," said Village Manager Cara Pavlicek via email. "So, I hope winter holds off that long."

As the weather changes and street and patio dining come to an end, village government will continue to encourage and support curbside pickup by continuing to offer the signage and 15-minute parking locations established in all business districts when the pandemic forced restaurants to close in March.

Kettlestrings Tavern, 800 S. Oak Park Ave., will see its right-of-way patio taken down, but their sidewalk dining permit is valid through Nov. 15. Sidewalk permits were set to expire at the end of September but were extended into November by the village in response to the pandemic. 

"I feel like a farmer," said co-owner Rob Guenthner. "I spend hours every day looking at the weather. We plan our week based on rainy days versus sunny ones."

Now in addition to tracking the weather the team at Kettlestrings is focused on creative problem solving to keep outdoor dining up and running as long as their village permit lasts. They are looking into covering the dining space with a tent and using heaters to keep guests warm. Executive Chef Mike Gussis has an affinity for autumnal fare and plans to adapt and enhance the tavern's menu for the season. Guenther would encourage customers to wear parkas and bring blankets to create a cozy feeling to dining outdoors in autumn.

Kettlestrings is also preparing to handle more carryout and curbside orders as the weather turns and intend to offer a hybrid delivery approach.

Johnny Konstantos, of George's Family Restaurant, 145 S. Oak Park Ave., has made the most of their right-of-way patio constructed by village in mid-June. It took longer than expected to have the jersey walls delivered, but since opening the patio has brought loyal breakfast lovers back to George's. As autumn nears, the family diner faces a return to limited seating as their sidewalk is too narrow to qualify for a sidewalk permit.

"It's all up in the air right now," said Konstantos. "We are seeing a little bit more indoor dining now, but not as many people as we would like. It is hard to work like this, but we will see what the future holds."

Tre Sorelle,  1111 Lake St., could not offer outdoor dining while the street was under construction west of Marion Street. Now that the street is nearly completed, co-owner Anthony Miniscalco and his business partner Al Mancini are making plans to construct an outdoor dining space with cooler temperatures in mind.

"We lost a substantial amount of walk-in business because the street was under construction," said Miniscalco. "But the finished product is absolutely beautiful. I teared up when they planted the tree in front of the restaurant. It was nice to see a bit of green."

To accommodate sidewalk patio dining, Tre Sorelle will rely on a large overhead outdoor heater above the front door to balance the cooler air. Additionally, they intend to construct a trellis to help keep cool breezes at bay and create a cozy environment. The restaurant also benefits from large front windows that allow the indoor space to meet outdoor dining requirements. 

"Having heaters will hopefully allow us to keep the large windows open well into the fall,' said Miniscalco. "We want to maximize every opportunity we have. We want people to feel safe and be comfortable both inside and out."

Tre Sorelle focuses on Northern Italian cuisine full of hearty dishes suitable for fall. Their chef hails from Milan and looks forward to making regional soups, and autumnal specials like short rib ravioli and richer cheese-based dishes like chicken with gorgonzola cream sauce to lure diners to Lake Street.

"Oh man, we have some plans," said Miniscalco. "We have a couple of tricks up our sleeve to entice people to dine outdoors in the fall."

In the Hemingway District on Lake from Oak Park Avenue to Euclid Avenue, however, all street-side outdoor dining is set to end after Labor Day to allow curb and sidewalk improvements to be completed by the end of the year. The decision was vetted with the business district and taken to the village board on July 6 for approval.  

"Several businesses are working on alternates for outdoor dining (such as behind the business)," said Pavlicek.  "Some, like Fairgrounds, will be able to continue with their use of sidewalk space as that area was improved earlier by the developer who built District House."

Other restaurants may not fare as well east of Oak Park Avenue.


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