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Restaurant owners want city to pressure Pritzker on partially restoring indoor dining

Roger Romanelli, the coalition’s coordinator, said the ban has led thousands of Chicago restaurants and bars to a “breaking point.”

Jodi Agee, owner of Jefferson Tap, tears up while explaining how her restaurant was broken into because they didn’t have the funds to hire security.
Jodi Agee, owner of Jefferson Tap, tears up while explaining how her restaurant was broken into because they didn’t have the funds to hire security. Agee and other restaurant owners spoke at a press conference in the Little Italy neighborhood Tuesday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Two and a half months into the city’s latest indoor dining ban, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot and all 50 aldermen to pressure Gov. J.B. Pritzker on partially reopening restaurants.

Restaurant owners, caterers and long-time residents made their case Tuesday for restoring indoor dining at 20% capacity by Jan. 29. Roger Romanelli, the coalition’s coordinator, cited a joint Northwestern University and Stanford University study, which found capping indoor dining at 20% reduces the number of new infections by more than 80% compared to fully reopening.

“Is this not the moment to understand that indoor dining is not responsible for the spread?” Romanelli asked at an outdoor news conference on the Near West Side. “We cannot burden our restaurants to wait.”

Pritzker has demanded the city reduce its COVID-19 positivity rate to 6.5% before reopening restaurants, but the rolling average has remained above 8% since the shutdown. With “no end in sight,” Romanelli said city restaurants cannot keep waiting for the positivity rate to hit Pritzker’s threshold.

So far, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has written to Lightfoot to support the coalition, calling the continuation of the indoor dining ban a “death sentence” for thousands of Chicago restaurants.

“While the City does not have the authority to allow indoor dining at any capacity at this point under state-imposed mitigation measures, we hope to reopen soon and will be closely monitoring the health metrics set by the state,” Lightfoot’s office said in a statement.

Roger Romanelli, the Chicago Restaurants Coalition coordinator, at news conference in January, Jan. 12, 2021.
Roger Romanelli, coordinator of the Chicago Restaurants Coalition, wants the city to allow indoor dining again, at reduced capacity. At a Tuesday press conference, he cited a joint Northwestern University and Stanford University study, which found capping indoor dining at 20% reduces the number of new infections by more than 80% compared to fully reopening.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Jodi Agee, owner of Jefferson Tap and Grille, 325 N. Jefferson St., said the revenue loss has left her nearly 20-year-old restaurant thinly staffed. With no money for security, Jefferson Tap was robbed earlier this month, making an already bleak time even worse.

Without the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans, Agee said Jefferson Tap would close its doors. Restaurants cannot survive on takeout and delivery alone, she said, which is why she believes the coalition’s plea is reasonable.

“We’re supposed to be in this together,” Agee said. “The mayor and the governor — I don’t feel like they’re in this with us.”

The coalition also urged Lightfoot to use tax increment finance funds to help small businesses and restaurants. With the cold weather limiting revenue from outdoor dining, Romanelli argued Chicago restaurants need financial assistance from the city and state now more than ever.

“This is potentially the worst financial crisis in our state’s history,” Romanelli said. “Restaurants want to be part of the solution. We want to solve the city’s crisis.”