When customers are ready to dine outside again, restaurants will be ready. In the meantime, carryout and delivery are available at many local eateries. Photo by Bob Seidenberg

Lenice Levy, the owner of Good To Go restaurant at 711 Howard St., did not at first hear Governor J.B. Pritzker’s announcement Oct. 27, prohibiting restaurants from serving patrons indoors as Covid-19 cases began surging again.

She had been in meetings Tuesday and had not caught the news. Then a reporter from the Sun-Times happened to stop at the restaurant to eat and updated her.

“It was very, very devastating,” she said. “We have weathered through this. We have been very responsible, very safe. We still managed to run a viable business to the best of our ability, and then we just get hit by this – right at the beginning of the busy season.”

A number of other restaurant owners, some with establishments barely holding on, voiced similar frustration to the new restrictions, which went into effect today, Oct. 28.

Most have made a series of adjustments since the Governor first shut down service in March at the onset of the pandemic.

Outdoor seating was then allowed to resume near the beginning of June, under the Governor’s order, and then indoor service was allowed near the end of that month.

At Prairie Moon, 1635 Chicago Ave., owner Rob Strom said, the restaurant had not yet opened inside, but was moving in that direction with weather changes signaling patio dining was coming to an end.

Through the pandemic, Mr. Strom said, the restaurant has relied on a solid group of 15 staff members working, as others in the restaurant community were, in a “we’re-all-in-this-together,” spirit, he said.

Continuing working had “been more of a staff decision, where all of us wanted to make sure we were comfortable doing it, and we did feel like we were going in the right direction,” he said.

As for the governor’s directive, “I understand it – my wife’s a nurse,” Mr. Strom said. 

“It’s a bitter pill, and I don’t know how we’re going to make it through,” he said. “But we have made it this far and we can hope the numbers can go in the right direction, and we can all feel safe and comfortable again.”

Jerry Travlos, owner of the Golden Olympic Restaurant, 1608 Chicago Ave., could not say for sure what the restaurant’s status will be, if and when that moment arrives.

His reaction to the Governor’s latest directive “would not be safe for children,” he told a reporter.

Some places may have stayed busy during the pandemic, he said. “We are not one of them. In our best days we have got somewhere near 55% of our historical numbers … and that’s with some effort.”

As a result, he said, the restaurant has reduced its hours, reduced its staff. “I haven’t taken a salary in seven or eight months,” he said. “I basically eat here [at the restaurant] when I can.”

“This place has been in my family for 45 years,” he said. “I actually grew up here.”

With the Governor’s order, Mr. Travlos said he and his reduced staff have taken some steps, such as putting meat in freezers. Some employees are taking food home to tide them over.

“What else can I do?” asked Mr. Travlos.

One of his workers, a legal immigrant from Mexico who had come here for a better opportunity, “just looked me in the face and said, this is not the America I was told about,” related the restaurant owner.

Urges Council to Challenge Governor’s Order

During public comment at the Oct. 26 City Council meeting, Eric Singer, the former owner of The Lucky Platter, 514 Main St., spoke of the pain his fellow restaurateurs were in and urged the City to challenge the Governor’s decision.

Starting his remarks, Mr. Singer, who now teaches cooking and works with people considered essential workers, stressed that he takes the virus very seriously.

“But I also want to say that I really believe that these restrictions being put on the restaurants are unfair,” he said.

Many of the restaurateurs live in Evanston, said Mr. Singer, who ran Lucky Platter for over 20 years.

“They’re not only residents here, they’re friends of ours; they’re community members,” he told Council members. “And I just want to say that I feel like if they’re willing to go out there each day and open their restaurants, and their crews are willing to go out there and risk their lives to go out into these restaurants, and their customers are willing to go out there and support their people, I think this deserves a lot more respect and attention than it’s getting.

“I mean, I hope all of you understand, I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life,” Mr. Singer continued. “You know, they [the restaurants] are not going to survive on ‘to-gos,’ and this statement today that the Governor placed that we can still eat out in ‘to-go’ areas or like outdoors… It snowed today, guys. I mean how many restaurants are there with people eating outdoors?”

Mr. Singer told Council members, “I would like Evanston to come out and publicly say that we don’t agree with the Governor – we don’t agree with the mandate he’s placed. We all know the numbers are going up, and I’m not in a position to say [they are not]. But I just say we have to support these people.”

Meanwhile, restaurant owners were doing their best to keep business going in the face of changing circumstances.

Prairie Moon already has a blue-and-white  Election Night Dinner special on tap – its five courses starting off with a mini Blue Chesapeake Crabcake salad (Eastern time) and topped off with Hawaiian Double Vanilla Cupcakes (Hawaii time), mirroring the movement of election results.

Ms. Levy and Good To Go, which specializes in Jamaican cuisine, can be counted to make changes too, much as the restaurant has adjusted during the pandemic.

“We still have delivery; we have pickup; we have curbside,” she said. To order, customers can go on line or, preferably, to the restaurant’s website, Ms. Levy said.

And the restaurant has several options, including table “igloos” and a heated tent too, she said, as diners go outside again.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.