At Charlie’s Restaurant, 7427 Roosevelt Rd., indoor dining is going on as usual, despite Governor J. B. Pritzker’s orders to halt all indoor restaurant and bar service in suburban Cook County beginning Oct. 28.
Maria Philippou, restaurant manager and daughter of owner Charlie Philippou, made it clear on social media soon after the Oct. 26 announcement of the restrictions that Charlie’s Restaurant would be staying open.
“We are remaining open and standing up for our rights and freedoms,” the restaurant announced on its Facebook page. The message goes on to say, “We have been able to serve our guests for 40 years and we are beyond grateful for their support.”
Mentioning a construction project on Roosevelt Road that temporarily shut their business, a fire that closed their doors for 13 months, and the initial COVID-19 restrictions, Charlie’s said, “We will not survive another shut down.”
The Facebook announcement was met with mixed responses. Some people congratulated the restaurant on its decision to remain open. But others said they were shocked. One respondent said he had been a loyal customer for 20 years and bought take-out during the shutdown. “Unfortunately, we will no longer be customers,” he said.
On Oct. 28, Philippou appeared on ABC7 news talking about the decision to stay open and her hopes that the governor will change his mind about the extra restrictions put in place.
In the ABC7 segment, Philippou mentioned Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot pushing back against Pritzker’s mandates and her hope that other mayors would do the same. She added: “It is just a matter of survival at this point for our employees, bussers, dishwashers, cooks. They can’t survive on doing take outs.”
So what happens if a restaurant or bar refuses to shut down?
In Forest Park, there’s a three-step process in place, according to Mayor Rory Hoskins and Village Administrator Tim Gillian.
First, upon receiving a complaint of noncompliance, a village representative will stop by, notify the business about the governor’s orders and tell them to close.
Second, if more complaints arise, the village will issue a cease and desist order, delivered by the village police or a member of the Public Health and Safety department.
Finally, if noncompliance continues to be an issue, the village will report the establishment to either the Cook County Department of Public Health or the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The intent of the village, said Gillian, is not to be punitive if it’s not necessary. Instead, the village plans to approach complying businesses one by one to ask how the town can help. This will include public works and the Department of Public Health and Safety working with restaurants to come up with solutions such as a dedicated parking spot outside the establishment to make curbside service easier.
“Here in a suburb like Forest Park, we want to work with businesses to be successful,” Hoskins said. He added that he expects residents and patrons to self-enforce.
“I don’t think people are going to flock to restaurants that are openly violating the governor’s order,” Hoskins said.
When asked about the possibility of revoking the liquor licenses of business not in compliance, Hoskins and Gillian said that’s not something they’re planning to do.
“Revocation of a license is a big deal,” Hoskins said. “It has legal consequences. It involves attorneys, it’s time consuming, and it’s not something we’re really going to consider unless someone’s grossly violating rules.”
Potential lawsuits from restaurants or restaurant associations are a big consideration and a risk not worth taking unless, said Hoskins, there was an extreme circumstance, such as a packed bar or restaurant with unmasked people “standing elbow to elbow,” in which case a liquor license review might be necessary. But even that would involve first a temporary shut-down before the hearing, and potentially thousands of dollars in legal fees for the village.
Hoskins added that the village will continue to follow advice from the state.
After Prizker’s announcement that similar restrictions will be required in Chicago beginning Oct. 30, Lightfoot spoke out on PBS News Hour, asking for the governor to reconsider the additional mitigation measures.
“I’m not sure that we’re reaching the right people with the restrictions that are going to be imposed by the state and that’s my concern,” Lightfoot said. Other metrics, said Lightfoot, should be considered in looking at the situation.
“No question we’re seeing an uptick in cases, and we’re also seeing positivity (rates) going up, but hospitalizations are not at the breaking point like we feared back in the spring, and I think that’s an important metric,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve gotta be very surgical in the way we impose these new restrictions.”
The restrictions, said Lightfoot, could be devastating to restaurants and bars.
“If the governor’s order goes into effect, it’s really effectively shutting down a significant portion of our economy at a time when those same businesses are really hanging on by a thread,” Lightfoot said. She said her office would continue to communicate with the governor’s office, “but it’s not looking good.”
Orland Park’s Mayor Keith Pekau announced in a video on Oct. 27 that he will not be enforcing the governor’s orders for restaurants and bars to shut down indoor dining. Among other reasons, he cited the lack of concrete data from the county or state showing that bars and restaurants have contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks. He referenced DuPage County’s numbers, readily available on the county’s website, that break down outbreaks by setting.
From March 1 to Oct. 20, according to the data from DuPage County, sit-down dining restaurants have been responsible for five out of 235 COVID outbreaks, involving 22 cases, which is .7 percent of total confirmed cases traced to specific settings. Fast food restaurants are responsible for five outbreaks (17 cases), which is .5 percent of the total number of traceable cases. And “Other or Unknown Type” of restaurants have been responsible for three outbreaks (10 cases), representing .3 percent of total confirmed traceable cases.
In total, then, since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, restaurants have been responsible for only 1.5 percent of total confirmed, traced cases of COVID-19 in DuPage County. That’s compared to, say, long term care facilities, which are responsible for over half of the traced and confirmed cases.
Assuming Cook County’s numbers are similar, said Pekau, there isn’t evidence to mandate the governor’s closures.
But the same data from Cook County isn’t readily available on the website and hasn’t been provided to local government.