Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to begin reopening restaurants for indoor dining

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It is month three of an indoor dining ban in Illinois and while some restaurants have found success in takeout, many others have closed or say they are days away from shutting down.

But there's promising news for restaurant owners: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says it's time to begin reopening these businesses.

The lunch crowd at Tavern on Rush is not much of a crowd, but it's keeping them in business. They mostly sit in the covered outside dining area under heaters. The owners would love to be able to put some of them inside, as soon as the city and state lift the COVID restrictions.

"Dining outside, inside, in bubbles, in outdoors, in tents. That's not more safe than being inside," said Steven Hartenstein, of Stefani Restaurants.

Restaurant owners say they are going above and beyond to make things safe for indoor dining. At Formento's on Randolph, they have spent thousands on a multi-layered air filtration system designed to kill most any particle imaginable. The owner says business is down more than 80 percent, even though they have had no employees or customers test positive.

"We know what we're doing. We know how to keep people safe," the owner of Formento's said.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has been lobbying hard for reopening indoor dining.
"Eating and drinking places in Illinois lost 31,000 jobs in November alone," said Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association. "This is the highest rate of hospitality job loss in the entire country, and three times as many as the next closest state. We are also one of only three states with a complete statewide shutdown of indoor dining. Restaurants are out of time, and they need a more reasonable - and immediate - path forward to save the industry. This is the reckoning."

Mayor Lightfoot said she wants to reopen restaurants and bars, in part because she says they are safer than the unrestricted private parties many people are having in their homes.

"Let's bring it out of the shadows," Lightfoot said. "I feel very strongly that we are very close where we should be talking about opening up our bars and restaurants."

The mayor says she has to follow the state's rules and she plans to talk to the governor.

However, a spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritzker said: "Currently, the City of Chicago and Cook County do not meet the metrics to return to previous tiers."

That is not good news for the restaurant business, with many struggling to survive and many others closing for good.

"We've had grown-ups that we sit with are literally in tears that they don't have their jobs and we want to get them back."

Many restaurants already missed out on the busy holiday season. January is generally not a good month for business, but many are hoping to be able to reopen indoors by Valentine's Day.
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