Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

Pritzker Announces Restaurant Closure

A+photo+of+the+once+populated+Clark+Street%2C+now+inactive+due+to+widespread+social+distancing.

Avani Kalra

A photo of the once populated Clark Street, now inactive due to widespread social distancing.

By Tess Wayland, Francis W. Parker Junior/High School

At a press conference this Sunday, Parker parent and Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered all restaurants in Illinois close to dine-in service. Restaurants will be allowed to continue with drive-through, pick-up, and delivery orders, but cannot serve sit-down customers from March 17 through March 30.

This official order came after Pritzker chastised Chicagoans for going out to bars and clubs to celebrate Saint Patrick’s day. This prompted Pritzker’s first major direction this weekend, asking places that serve alcohol to limit their capacity at a hundred people. Now, these establishments will have to close to sit-in customers altogether.

State officials have begun to work with restaurant owners and food delivery services to make sure that kitchens are safe and proper delivery protocol is followed.

Officials are also monitoring the food supply chain. While people move to delivery and take-out, they’re also beginning to stock up their personal pantries. Pritzker advised against hoarding goods. “Buy what you need, but please be reasonable,” Pritzker said to the Chicago Tribune. “Think of your friends and your neighbors. There is enough food to go around, but we need people to not be selfish.”

“Buy what you need, but please be reasonable,” Pritzker said to the Chicago Tribune. “Think of your friends and your neighbors. There is enough food to go around, but we need people to not be selfish.””

— J.B Pritzker

Some businesses near Parker, such as Starbucks and Yoberri, will be able to continue serving customers as long as they don’t allow anyone to dine-in. A statement on the Starbucks website details the new “to go” model in all of their U.S. locations, including the Clark and Dickens store frequented by Parker students. 

A representative for the store on Clark and Dickens said their location was “definitely open,” although some heavily populated stores in Chicago are closing. The store manager could not be reached for comment. Though the store will remain open, they’re losing the regular conference and H-period foot traffic from Parker students.

“I was there on Thursday and it was really strange,” sophomore and self-described coffee-enthusiast Mia Wichman said. “All the baristas, it seemed like they knew everyone. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we’re going to miss you all so much, and you guys are a lot of our business.’”

Wichman also frequents local coffee shops such as Collectivo and Philz. “I’ve been getting a lot of emails from coffee shops detailing their plans to stay open and only take to-go orders,” Wichman said. “I’m worried that a lot of the more local spots will take a hit in business and have trouble staying open.”

Parker parents who own local restaurants will be affected as well. Billy Lawless, father of sophomore Darragh Lawless, founded the Gage Hospitality Group, which owns several Chicago staples, including restaurant Coda di Volpe. Coda di Volpe will be offering a new daily menu everyday from 4:30-8:30 p.m. that’s available for complimentary curbside pick-up.

Andreas Antoniou, senior Max Antoniou’s father, owns Marge’s Still and Old Town Pub, two restaurants in the Old Town neighborhood. Currently, Antoniou is trying to organize curbside pick-up and is looking to expand to delivery in the coming days, as most of their business comes from sit down customers. Antoniou is concerned about the major loss of business on top of the thousands of dollars the restaurant has to pay in fixed expenses.

“Restaurants operate on very thin margins so any rocking of the boat can sink it,” Antoniou said. “I don’t only worry about myself. I worry a lot about my employees. I have employees that live paycheck to paycheck. I mean, I’m heartbroken because they have families and they need to support their families.” 

According to information Antoniou received from the state, Illinois is working towards facilitating unemployment benefits for employees. At the national level, Trump is due to sign a bill that provides relief to affected workers. “There are 25,000 restaurants in Illinois,” Antoniou said. “I don’t know how they’re going to do this in a speedy manner,” Antoniou said. “We just pray and hope that they can do that.”

As restaurants in the Parker community and beyond begin to furlough workers and lose business, the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) is lobbying the government to provide stimulus to the restaurant industry. After slow months in January and February, restaurants still have to deal with fixed expenses such as rent and city and state taxes.

Chef Jenner Tomaska, who is due to open a restaurant across the street from Parker in October 2020, is among chefs lobbying the governor for restaurant relief. 

“We believe in prioritizing the safety of our employees and our guests,” Tomaska said in a statement posted to Instagram. “We also must call upon you [Governor Pritzker] today to announce immediately what you plan to do for our workers and for our small businesses so that when it is safe to feed others, we can continue to do so.”

Tomaska’s post included a list of recommendations from independent restaurant owners and chefs in Chicago to the governor, including a call for emergency unemployment benefits for all furloughed during the crisis, eliminating the payroll tax, and providing rent and loan abatement to those impacted by restaurant closures.

Other city establishments will be making adjustments to accommodate restaurant closure.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that Chicago Public Schools will be offering pickup-friendly breakfast and lunches for children under 18. Pick-up is available at any public school location from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., regardless of whether the child normally qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch. “CPS is giving food to any child who needs it, no questions asked,” Lightfoot said in a statement for the Chicago Tribune.

Grocery stores are also making changes to accommodate the recent uptick in panic purchases. Major chains, such as Walmart, Jewel Osco, and Trader Joe’s will be cutting their hours, giving them more time to sanitize and restock. 

Delivery services like the Chicago-based Grubhub will offer no-contract deliveries during the pandemic. Grubhub is also deferring its commission fees for independent restaurants on the app, as well as setting up community relief funds for impacted restaurants and delivery workers. By delaying this fee, Grubhub is temporarily giving up revenue so more cash flow can go directly to the restaurant.

Restaurant owners will try to stay afloat through the end of the month, when restaurants are supposed to reopen. “What really scares me is this thing may continue past the end of these months,” Andreas said. “It’ll be very hard to bounce back.”

This story was originally published on The Weekly on March 18, 2020.