Local restaurants adapt to Pritzker’s restrictions following denied petition


Patrick Murphy

The Hillside Restaurant

By Jamie O'Toole, Columnist

DeKALB — On Saturday, local restaurants in DeKalb County were forced to eliminate indoor dining after J.B. Pritzker released restaurant and bar restrictions due to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Region One. Seven owners filed a lawsuit against Pritzker, and a petition for a temporary restraining order on new restrictions which was denied. 

Owners have experienced minor setbacks while adjusting so far, but express concern for neighboring “family” restaurants. 

Bill McMahon, owner of the Lincoln Inn and Faranda’s Banquet Center, 302 Grove St., permanently moved his entire business at Lincoln Inn one block south to Faranda’s, due to the pandemic. The Lincoln Inn was a 4,000-square-foot restaurant and now at Faranda’s McMahon has 14,000 square feet to work with for patio seating and room inside to spread out customers.

While the space at Faranda’s certainly compensated for the spacing requirements these past five months, patio seating outside is the only option now. There have been tents put up to minimize wind and space heaters placed sporadically, but fewer people are coming now that the weather is turning colder, McMahon said. 

In Lincoln Inn’s business model, banquets drive the place. Before the pandemic, Lincoln Inn was able to accommodate 674 people at Faranda’s. When restaurants were able to open back up in June capacity was 50 people per room, but now, capacity is limited to 25 people or 25% of overall room capacity both indoors and outdoors. It will be a financial loss, McMahon said, because there’s not much he can do to get creative with this.

On the other hand, The Hillside Restaurant, 121 N. Second St., has not experienced a change in business. It offers curbside pickup as well as patio dining. 

“Customers know the model and how to get food,” co-owner Gavin Wilson said. 

Wilson, who has owned Hillside for 30 years, is changing the business model for the first time based on a pandemic. Wilson said he must make sure staff is taken care of, the bills are paid and customers are taken care of, too.

“We like challenges though,” Wilson said. 

In the meantime, until restaurants can welcome indoor dining again, Faranda’s is working on construction inside. They’re installing ultraviolet lighting into rooftop units that release circulated air throughout the building. The light will kill 99% of the viruses in the air. And instead of 36-inch booths, booths will be 48 inches in height, McMahon said. 

While Lincoln Inn and Hillside both have the luxury of offering patio dining, family restaurants are getting hit the hardest, with their inside dining being the main experience, McMahon said. 

While McMahon has been a business owner for 27 years, Wilson has been one for 30 years, newer business owners might be less equipped to deal with this shift for a second time. Newer owners are in a lot of debt or rent a facility early in their career, Wilson said. 

“In the restaurant world we bust our hump just to make 10 cents on the dollar,” McMahon said.

McMahon said he believes DeKalb is safe. People should be given the choice to run their business inside or outside, and the consumer can decide if it’s safe for them, he said. His restaurant was among the seven DeKalb County businesses that filed the lawsuit. 

“The governor doesn’t have the right to take away the business owners’ livelihood or the customers’ right to choose,” McMahon said. 

Region one, including Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties, saw a test positivity rate of 8% or above for three consecutive days. On Sept. 29, Pritzker announced they would have to undergo “resurgence mitigations,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health

DeKalb County, however, had a positivity rate of 6.8%, 7.2% and 6.9% for three consecutive days, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The restrictions will last for 14 days minimum, and be lifted once a positivity rate for 3 consecutive days drops to 6.5% or below. 

The Hillside restaurant, however, decided not to join local restaurants in this lawsuit because they did not have any interest in trying to force the governor to change his plan. The possibility of getting Pritzker to remove his restrictions seemed unlikely, Wilson said. 

“Fair or not fair,” Wilson said, “This is what is. We’re all about making it work so we can survive.”