Reopening Illinois: Restaurants weigh if they should 'fight or fold' as pandemic wears on

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor dining in the next phase of Illinois' reopening plan - and that's good news for some that are struggling to survive.

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Rohini Dey's popular Vermilion restaurant in River North has been closed for nearly three months. She still has bills to pay, but has no income. Nevertheless, she is one of the fortunate ones who expects to reopen.

She also serves on the board of the James Beard Foundation and fears many others may be closed for good.

"The prognosis is 80% of us are not going to make it," Dey said. "We are looking at a dismal industry for us."

Some surveys suggest half or more of all restaurants may not survive. The popular Mike Ditka's restaurant in the Gold Coast is one of the high-profile victims after the owners announced they will not reopen.

"It's sad when you start seeing iconic places close," said Grant DePorter, of Harry Caray's Restaurant. "We can only go so long without some help."

Harry Caray's Restaurant is trying to have fun with the social distancing that will be required once they reopen, but there is a serious side as well. Fewer customers mean fewer dollars coming in.

Tony Gambino's company owns 16 restaurants, including Victory Meat and Seafood in Elmhurst.

"It's a hard pill to swallow when someone says, hold it together but we can't give you any information, you're not really going to have any control in this, and your resources will be limited," Gambino said.

Gambino said he and many other restaurant owners have received some federal financial support, but more is needed to help them survive.

"Should we fold or should we fight? And the economics would say fold," Dey said.

Many restaurant owners are planning to reopen in late June. The owner of Vermilion said they will make a decision closer to that date.
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