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Local

After Faranda's sparks debate over indoor dining regulations, some DeKalb businesses say they'll reopen

The Forge in DeKalb Oct. 21, 2020.
The Forge in DeKalb Oct. 21, 2020.

DeKALB – Multiple DeKalb area businesses are saying they are opening up for indoor dining amid debate on regulations spurred by Faranda's Banquet Center remaining open after health officials said Tuesday state guidelines aren't clear whether banquet centers must adhere to the indoor dining prohibition.

Staff from Forge Brewhouse, 216 N. Sixth St. in DeKalb, wrote in a Wednesday afternoon social media post the taproom now is open for normal business indoors. The post stated that patrons won't be chastised for wearing or not wearing a mask.

"If you can go in to a casino, marijuana store, big box store, tent with walls and heat, a protest or banquet facility then I'm good with you coming in here," staff wrote in the post. "Call us a tent with cinderblock walls or a protest site if that makes you more comfortable."

Staff from Forge Brewhouse did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment from Daily Chronicle on Wednesday afternoon.

The update comes after the owner of Faranda's Banquet Center, Bill McMahon, said health officials called him and told him Tuesday afternoon he can continue indoor dining until they can clarify whether it's allowed by the state. That call was spurred by a complaint following a social media post which circulated Tuesday showing DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith dining inside for breakfast Tuesday morning. Smith said he and Faranda's weren't doing anything wrong since the banquet center is exempt from indoor dining prohibitions.

Health officials, however, said state guidelines aren't clear as to whether indoor dining is allowed at a banquet center, and said they told McMahon to await further clarification from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

As of about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, local health department officials have not reached back out to McMahon with new information, he told the Daily Chronicle. He declined additional comment until he hears back from the health department.

Local health officials had said they are waiting to hear back from state health officials for additional education and enforcement guidance on the matter.

Banquet halls versus restaurants

The debate about who is regulated by what rules requires more clarification from state public health officials, who did not return request for comment Wednesday.

When asked whether there exists a difference in liquor licenses and permits to help distinguish between a restaurant and a banquet center, City Manager Bill Nicklas said liquor licenses are different for the two, along with venue size, number of bathrooms in the space and how food is prepared for larger gatherings.

He said Faranda's has a full service bar and liquor license while Hillside Restaurant, 121 N. Second St. in DeKalb, for example, has a license for beer and wine, but both would still have food licenses and are subject to health department action, if needed.

“It’s a different license, different level of permitting and once a year they have to get pre-licensed,” Nicklas said.

Faranda's, for instance, could still host a private gathering such as a wedding during ongoing Region 1 mitigations, as long as they limited the party amid pandemic protocols. It's unclear whether use of that space for indoor dining is prohibited, though.

Nicklas said gatherings are back to 25 people or less per Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's Oct. 2 order – which has been extended to mid-November – including additional mitigations, namely no indoor dining for bars and restaurants.

“If [a gathering] was at a venue like Farada’s and they wanted to do small reception, they could do that and liquor license would be available to them,” Nicklas said.

Nicklas said defining what makes a banquet center and what makes a restaurant in terms of the governor's order is up to local definition and isn't as clearly outlined in the governor's order. However, he pointed out that local health departments could take away food permits and the state could take away liquor licenses and, in turn, would not be able to serve alcohol in the city.

"So it's splintered," Nicklas said of the potential avenues of enforcement in place.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said during his daily news briefing on Wednesday afternoon the Illinois State Police now has been alerted to be on patrol in state health regions that have additional mitigations placed on them due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. He said police can issue citations but will start by asking people to disperse or warning them of consequences of noncompliance.

Pritzker said he is sympathetic to businesses being in a tough spot with mitigations in place and regions under additional mitigations can get in front of the line for relief grants, including the state's Business Interruption Grant. He maintained restaurants and bars are major virus spreader locations and the real issue is the virus, not the mitigations.

"These small businesses have been suffering from the very beginning," Pritzker said. "This virus has been unrelenting. It's the virus that's been spreading at these locations. The virus is the one causing the problem."

Local data linking COVID-19 cases to restaurants and bars is not publicly available, however, and local public health officials have also pointed to gatherings, such as parties, as a reason for the spread.

Pritzker said he was reluctant to take away state liquor licenses from businesses for not complying with those heightened mitigations, since there are semi-permanent effects for businesses if the state did so and it's not easy for businesses to earn those state liquor licenses back.

"But now we're going to be making sure that we enforce that," Pritzker said.

Staff from Hillside Restaurant in downtown DeKalb wrote a Wednesday morning social media post that had a photo of the restaurant's sign with text saying "indoor banquet hall" pasted over the part of the sign that said "restaurant." The edited photo was captioned with the phrase, "Everyone is welcome."

Gavin Wilson, one of the owners of Hillside Restaurant, said on Wednesday the post was meant to be sarcastic in tone. He declined comment about whether he is for or against restaurant indoor dining overall, but he expressed concern about how his business will fair without the ability to dine inside.

Ultimately, Wilson said, he's been angry about there being so much confusion and contradictions from day one when it comes to which businesses are subjected to what rules from state officials.

“Clarity and consistency would be nice,” Wilson said.

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