Not all restaurants will be able to re-open when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, owners say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As we wait for the gradual reopening of businesses, some restaurant owners say any reopening at less that full capacity might not keep them afloat.

There is no waiting for a table or a spot at the bar these days at Old Crow Smokehouse in River North, but good luck getting service. Most of the employees are on furlough until they can reopen the place. And when they do come back, it's likely to be with limited numbers of customers, which the owner says is a problem.

"It doesn't work," owner Sam Sanchez said. "The numbers don't work. You can't open at a number that you lose money."

As the vice chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association, Sanchez said a lot of restaurants are in big trouble. In fact, by some estimates as many as half of all current restaurants will be unable to survive the coronavirus shutdown.

"Just being closed April and May alone, we're losing over a million dollars in cash flow," said Joe Spagnoli, who owns Yak-Zies in Wrigleyville.

Spagnoli said Yak-Zies likely will survive. They've been in business for 30 years, but they depend on crowds from games and concerts for much of their business. He expects to be closed until next spring.

"We have exhausted our financial resources to move forward without a guarantee of baseball," said Spagnoli.

For now, Sanchez is keeping a few people employed with a pickup and delivery business. But Old Crow is 21,000 square feet and holds more than 800 people. With social distancing, it's likely only a fraction of that number will be allowed when they can reopen. He said paying the 75 employees as well as inventory and rent is a losing proposition.

"You can't hit those numbers, you can't pay the rent at at 25%. Even at 50% it won't work," Sanchez said. "A lot of large restaurants won't be able to survive that way."

At Old Crow, they are planning to partition off a big part of the bar, including the stage, when they reopen. They hope it is for only a short time.
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