Local restaurant owners prepare to close doors to dine-in customers

Nick Mataragas knows that Gov. JB Pritzker’s decision to close all restaurants and bars in the state to dine-in customers will cost him money, but he understands the importance of the governor’s latest step to combat the spread of coronavirus.

“I don’t want to lose revenue,” said Mataragas, the general manager of Time Out Sports Bar in Countryside. “But we’ll just tough it out for two weeks.”

Pritzker announced his decision at a Sunday press conference that all restaurants and bars in the state will be closed from Monday night, through the end of the month, to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

“It’s probably the best thing for the United States, for Illinois, to help stop this thing,” Mataragas said Sunday. “Yeah, that seems fair and reasonable to help stop this virus. We can’t play games with it. I think it can be very serious.”

Mataragas is glad take-out and delivery from bars and restaurants will still be allowed.

“It’s all about congregation. No congregating [in a bar or restaurant],” Mataragas said. “I’m not shocked. My friend in Ohio told me they just did that … We’ll get through it. It’s a temporary thing.”

Ohio and California have also closed bars and restaurants.

“I’m not going to cry over it. It is what it is,” Mataragas said. “It’s going to be rough, but as a citizen, I think it’s the right move. You can’t have people in close contact. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve got stop it.”

A hour before the Pritzker spoke, Mataragas said business “was down since the middle of the week” when – one after another – pro, amateur and college leagues suspended play.

There were eight people in the bar and the dining area was empty around 2 p.m. Sunday. Normally, he said, it would be packed for the Big Ten men’s basketball championship game that was postponed.

“This weekend, Saturday, we took a hit. It dropped off after our bingo because people are concerned,” he said.

Among the few there Sunday was loyal patron Todd Merkel, 59, of Lyons. Replays of sporting events played on TVs above the bar.

“I’m a regular,” Merkel said. “I’m not worried [about the virus]. I’m a pretty clean person. I wash my hands all the time.”

The lack of live sports does bother him “because I’m a huge soccer fan,” he said.

Merkel cheers Manchester United in England’s Premier League when he’s not following the Cubs and Blackhawks.

“The only good thing about not having sport is if I bet, I won’t have to worry about losing any money,” Merkel quipped.

He’s hoping preventive measures like closing establishments help to slow the virus.

A short drive away, the parking lot was jammed Sunday outside Rafferty’s Irish Pub in Countryside, where a big crowd was inside.

A bartender expressed surprise at the ban. She wondered if it will slow the virus.

“Italy has been on lock down for a couple weeks,” she said, “and people are still dying.”

Over at Kenny’s Irish Pub in Countryside, there was also a good-sized crowd.

A man who identified himself as a co-owner declined to comment: “I don’t know enough information. I don’t feel I know enough about it,” he said.

Walking into the pub, a man who said he owns several restaurants in the suburbs and Chicago said he thought the ban was “overreaction.”

Mataragas, however, said he is confident the governor’s ban will work.

“It may take a while, but if we do what we need to do, let’s say two weeks to a month of hardship, I think we’ll be OK,” he said.

Other local restaurants were responding on the fly Sunday to the news of Pritzker’s lock down.

Drive-through and delivery services will still be permitted, and some locations are taking this as an opportunity to expand their services.

Papa Passero’s in Westmont, is one such location. Owner Laura Trilla said she and her staff have already figured out ways to provide drive-through services despite not having done that before.

“The staff is willing to do anything to help, and we’ve never done curbside before so who knows, maybe something positive will come out of all of this negative,” Trilla said. “We’re figuring out exactly how we’re going to do this, but we’ve been in business for 43 years. We all just want to help each other any way we can.”

Trilla said Passero’s has plenty of delivery drivers and will not need to rely on a third-party service such as GrubHub, but coordinating drive-through services has many moving parts.

Customers will be able to drive to the restaurant and order on their phones, she said. Staff will take payment via credit card or cash and will then deliver the food to the vehicles outside.

Trilla said this means some staff members will be out of work for some time, including wait staff and bus boys. She said she sees providing drive-through services as a way to keep those people working and earning, so they can feed their families.

“This way, we can have them answering phones or helping bring food to the cars … and if we can help them with other jobs to support them to buy groceries then that’s what matters,” Trilla said. “Of course we’re going to lose thousands and thousands of dollars, but I’ve told my staff ‘if you need something, come to me.’”

A handful of other local businesses are still struggling to figure out what exactly their plan will be, including Grill 89 in Westmont. While the restaurant does work with third-party delivery services already, management said the eatery is unsure of what it will do in the coming weeks.

“We’re just trying to figure things out,” a manager at the location said. “It’s really a scramble right now.”

A manager at Mother’s Day Restaurant in North Riverside, said the restaurant will still offer pick up and delivery but will adjust staffing hours of the employees.

“I’m not surprised,” a manager said. “I heard [Pritzker] was thinking about it, but I guess the decision came a little sooner than I thought. I’m not totally surprised. If it’s for the better good, then we’re for it.”

A manager from La Lupita Mexican Restaurant in Berwyn said the news was disappointing and they’re still trying to figure it all out.

Tipsters Village Pub in North Riverside, said they have decided to offer both delivery and pick-up following Pritzker’s announcement.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” a manager said.

Lenny Girik, the beverage director of One Fifty One Kitchen Bar in Elmhurst said a lack of in-person service will be detrimental to the employees.

“We have families living paycheck to paycheck here,” Girik said. Making sure we can maintain pay and they’re not kicked out of their homes is an immediate concern, especially with no information at all from the state and federal governments.

“We have our normal Sunday specials and have already gotten lots of calls from people wanting to get their fix, but until the state gives us some information, our major concern is making sure employees aren’t homeless tomorrow.”

Sofia Defino, a manager at Pazzi Di Pizza in Elmhurst, said the eatery will lean on social media to promote pick-up and delivery service.

“For income, we’ll have pick-up and delivery, and we’ll be advertising on social media, like Instagram and Facebook. We have loyal customers and know what we’re doing here, so hopefully people come out and support,” Defino said.

“This is obviously a concern for every restaurant in the Chicagoland area and U.S. at this point, but it’s out of our control, so hopefully the government can come to help local restaurants. It’s not about income, it’s more about keeping customers happy. We’re loyal to customers and they’re loyal to us,” Defino said.

“We can’t do much to get people to come here but keep up smiles and positivity, do what we do best,” she said.

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