Chicago restaurant owners disappointed after mayor says no to outdoor dining

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot threw cold water on hopes that the city’s restaurants might resume outdoor service later this month, a day after the governor said such service would be allowed under certain conditions as of May 29.

Lightfoot said the coronavirus is still too much of a threat to the city and that June is a more likely target date for allowing any type of in-person service at restaurants. She said there are many factors to consider, such as meeting public health metrics on coronavirus cases and making sure restaurants of all sizes have similar opportunities, but she would be open to the possibility of closing certain streets to traffic so that restaurants would have additional space to operate.

“The ‘when’ question is going to be dependent on the public health data,” she told reporters. “I need to understand and be certain that restaurants across the city ... have a means to protect their employees and members of the public that will patronize them.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said outdoor dining will be allowed starting next week at restaurants that can place tables 6 feet apart and observe other safety protocols, a slight loosening of previously-announced reopening plans that hinge on meeting certain metrics. However, local governments such as Chicago can make their own determination.

City restaurant owners are upset.

“It was seriously disappointing,” said Franco Gianni, owner of Wood restaurant in Lake View. “Immediately after she said it I received a text message and my heart just sank because my chef and I were just so excited to give the public what they want.”

Despite ambiguity from the mayor, the head of the Illinois Restaurant Association says Chicago restaurants will not be too far behind the rest of the state.

“We want to close, possibly, parking lots. We want to close possibly, streets, we might want to close the bus lanes and the bike lanes…so there's so much to do, and I’m not sure we can get it all done within seven days. Might take about 10 days,” said Sam Toia.

Regardless of when patios reopen, expect changes from last summer, including occupancy restrictions, required face coverings and extra cleaning procedures.

“I think it's time for us to slowly progress in that direction as long as we use precaution and do things appropriately,” said Wood head chef Devin Kreller.

Restaurants like "Replay" in Andersonville spent the day deep cleaning its patio and sprucing up the planter boxes outside. On Thursday, Mayor Lightfoot said patios will likely reopen in June, but would not speculate on exactly when.

The virus is still spreading in Illinois. Public health officials on Thursday reported 2,268 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 87 more deaths statewide. Overall, there have been 102,686 cases and 4,607 deaths in Illinois.

Lightfoot also announced $1.3 million in support for organizations that will address increased mental health concerns amid the pandemic.

Late Wednesday, Chicago officials fined churches for defying coronavirus social distancing restrictions, issuing $500 penalties to three churches: Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, Philadelphia Romanian Church of God and Metro Praise International Church. Businessman Willie Wilson, a former mayoral candidate and retired pastor, attended services at one of the churches and said he’ll pay the fines.

Meanwhile, the police department said Wednesday that the city has temporarily banned parking alongside certain establishments as a precaution to prevent planned large gatherings.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older people and the infirm, it can cause severe symptoms and lead to death.

Associated Press contributed to this report.