A ‘slap in the face’ or a wise decision? Restaurateurs split on Lightfoot’s move to keep patios closed

When Mayor Lori Lightfoot broke with Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday and said she doesn’t think Chicago restaurants will be ready to reopen by next week, the owner of a barbecue spot in Wicker Park said he felt as if she “pulled the carpet out from under us.”

SHARE A ‘slap in the face’ or a wise decision? Restaurateurs split on Lightfoot’s move to keep patios closed
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Doug Dunlay, the owner of Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division, said when Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters Thursday that she doesn’t think Chicago restaurants will be ready to reopen by next week, he felt as if she “pulled the carpet out from under us.”

File photo

Doug Dunlay was “absolutely thrilled” when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that restaurants could start serving customers on their patios as soon as May 29, the day his current stay-at-home order expires.

Dunlay, the owner of Smoke Daddy in Wicker Park, said he and his team immediately sprang into action and started mapping out the restaurant’s patio to adhere to the state’s social distancing guidelines. After struggling for months after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, he said the announcement marked “the first time we actually had any hope.”

So when Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters Thursday that she doesn’t think Chicago restaurants will be ready to reopen by next week, Dunlay said he felt as if she “pulled the carpet out from under us.”

“I think it’s short-sighted and I think it’s a slap in the face or a gut punch,” said Dunlay.

While Lightfoot said she hopes to have restaurant patios up-and-running by next month, she noted that the process has to be done safely and steps must first be taken to maximize the revenues of restaurants that have been hit hard by the pandemic and will now have to limit capacities.

Dunlay claimed the mayor’s statements were vague and said he was frustrated that his restaurant is missing out on the spring and summer, which are vital seasons for his business. For now, Smoke Daddy has cut much of its staff and is focusing, like many restaurants, on take-out and delivery.

“It’s not like we were all asleep, and then yesterday we were just told we can do this and we’re going to scramble and not be able to be prepared,” he said. “We’ve been stocking up on masks and gloves and sanitizer, and we’ve been getting partitions to get in between booths for people to feel safe and for our employees to be safe.”

However, not all restaurateurs are so hot to trot. Dave Miller, co-owner of Baker Miller in Lincoln Square, said those pushing to reopen now are actually in the minority.

Miller credited Lightfoot for “making decisions that are best for the city and viewing the city as separate from the state.”

“I think it shows a lot of wisdom, and I really respect her decision,” said Miller.

Miller’s restaurant has found some success pivoting to a take-out spot, and he’s in no rush to open his dining room or patio. Deeply concerned about continued spread, he said Baker Miller likely won’t reopen until a vaccine or herd immunity is developed.

“Just because the law lets you doesn’t mean it’s wise and that consumers are going to do it,” he said. “That’s the thing that these people are pushing for, but I don’t really get the point because consumers are not going to eat out on a patio.”

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