Several DeKalb County restaurant and bar owners are joining together to make a cooperative push against the state for what they're calling "unfair" consequences of regional COVID-19 resurgences impacting local businesses, and expressed disappointment Friday that indoor dining closures won't be delayed headed into the weekend.
Seven restaurant and bar owners filed a lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health director Ngozi Ezike Thursday, with an emergency restraining order to delay mitigations and allow indoor dining. The order was denied by DeKalb County Judge Bradley Waller Friday who said operating a business is not a fundamental right under the constitution. The lawsuit – which alleges the governor's application of emergency powers is "unfair," in that it punishes counties that are in compliance with public health thresholds – will proceed forward, however.
Bill McMahon, owner of The Lincoln Inn and Faranda’s Banquet Center, both at 302 Grove St., said he was "very disappointed" following Waller's ruling Friday, but plans to continue to offer patio dining. He said the lawsuit is their last effort to stick up for their livelihoods.
"I think this is what we have to do to protect our livelihoods." McMahon said. "This is it, it’s do or die. It’s our legal right to do this. We want inside dining to be allowed. If you take this away from us, it will strangle off our revenues. It will be the demise of many of our businesses."
Business owners wants local control
Sycamore-based Cronauer Law is representing the owners of Fatty's Pub & Grill in DeKalb, Remington Gastropub in Malta, The Lincoln Inn and Faranda's Banquet Center in DeKalb, Ellwood Steak & Fish House in DeKalb, The Junction Eating Place in DeKalb, MVP Sports Bar in Sycamore and El Jimador Mexican Grill, which opened in downtown DeKalb on Tuesday.
Many restaurant owners said while they'll continue to offer outdoor dining and carryout options, the dropping temperatures as fall sets in make it all the less enticing for diners.
"We'll make it as warm and comfortable as we can for our customers, and curbside pickup," he said. "It's going to be very difficult and we're going to have some issues because our waitstaff depends on tips. This is going to be detrimental to small businesses. We'll do the best we can, but it will be very difficult."
McMahon said he feels its unfair to lump DeKalb County – which has a positivity rate below the 8% threshold for mitigations in Region 1, largely led by Winnebago County's rates – because local owners are doing their part.
"We wear masks, we have tables distanced, and it is safe," he said. "If you don’t think it’s safe, don’t eat inside. We offer carry-outs and curbside pickup. I’m not saying you have to come, but we should have the right to operate our business. If you take away inside dining from us, we won’t be able to do carry-outs, curbside pickups or deliveries. We will go out of business."
When reached for comment, Chris Bahramis, owner of The Junction Eating Place, 816 W. Lincoln Highway, he said he didn't have much comment but said "We are united with other businesses and are expressing our opinion."
'A long shot'
The decision to sue Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health director Ezike Ngozi came down Thursday morning, said Jeff Dobie, owner of Fatty’s Pub & Grill, 1312 W. Lincoln Highway.
"It all came about Thursday morning after a few phone calls between restaurant owners," he said. "We were asking each other what we will do if indoor seating is closed, how we will handle it and cope."
Dobie called Waller's ruling Friday "unfortunate," and said the decision to file a lawsuit isn't political, but a matter of keeping their businesses – and employees who rely on them for income – afloat.
"It was a long shot, but doing something is better than nothing," Dobie said. "We'll have a tent up that's heated and pray for good weather. We'll also have delivery and curbside pickup and people can order alcohol to go. The people that really suffer are our tip-earning employees. It will put people out of work. They're the ones that are hurt the most by this decision, the people that live paycheck-to-paycheck and rely on their tips."
Dobie cited the lawsuit – he's the only business owner listed by name in it – and said he wishes the IDPH would designate resurgence consequences based on county, not region.
"Lumping us all in, in such a wide range, is unfair," he said. "Our customers have been following the mandates. We shouldn’t be punished. DeKalb County is not a problem, it’s the region we’re in. If our numbers [in DeKalb County] did spike, I would agree completely that things should be changed. But it’s not, so therefore, let us operate as we have been, taking precautions and remaining safe."
He said he just wants the state to allow him to do what they've already been doing, enforcing mask-wearing, operating at 50% indoor dining capacity, cleaning, sanitizing, and socially-distancing tables.
Bill Hristakos, owner of Ellwood Steak and Fish House, 2219 Sycamore Road, said he joined the lawsuit because "enough is enough."
"We have done everything they asked of us: we wear masks, wash hands, use hand sanitizer, keep tables 6 feet away, we comply with all the laws and guidelines," Hristakos said. "But it's not enough and we have to close again. It's not right. We do everything they ask and we still pay the price."
Like his fellow business owners Friday, Hristakos said Ellwood will continue to offer outdoor seating, carryout and curbside pickup, and will comply with the rules to close indoor dining beginning Saturday.
"But in the meantime, we'll be taking legal action," he said "We're just trying to survive as business owners and are receiving no help from the government. We've lost a lot of money and a lot of employees. It's a catastrophe."