The threat of vandalism and looting the erupted nationwide after the death of George Floyd began to impact local restaurants beginning on Sunday evening, interrupting what the highly anticipated move into outdoor dining as Illinois entered Phase 3 of the governor’s Restore Illinois plan.
As violence and chaos landed in and around Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, restaurateurs, fearing property damage, quickly stowed away patio furniture and sent their cooks and wait staff home to keep their customers and employees safe.
It was an unexpected turn during a weekend restaurateurs, along with their staffs and customers, had welcomed.
“We are delighted to be back open for patio dining,” said Martin Lynch, the owner of Irish Times, 8869 Burlington Ave. in Brookfield. “It has given everyone a boost of morale.”
Lynch’s staff prepared for their patio opening by taking Serv Safe and COVID awareness classes online. The restaurant invested in new furniture and large tent to cover their expanded outdoor dining space and introduced a QR code based no-touch menu. Just as quickly as the pub got up and running it was facing a new challenge.
After hearing news reports on Sunday, Lynch pulled his managers together to discuss how to handle the threat of violence in the area. All agreed the safety of staff and customers was their top priority and opted to close Irish Times early.
“We actually had a nice amount of people having lunch on the tented patio when we closed down,” said Lynch. “When we made the last call announcement everyone was really understanding.”
Since most of the activity was concentrated around malls, Lynch never felt as though crowds would be drawn to Brookfield. Threats in surrounding communities were the main drivers for making quick safety minded decisions.
“The Brookfield police have been brilliant,” said Lynch. “They came around to personally check on us and so did our neighbors. That really shows great community spirit during a difficult time.”
When Ceasar Melidis, general manager of La Barra, 2 E Burlington St. in Riverside, got word of the shooting and looting at North Riverside Park Mall, he knew he would need to close for the evening. Many of La Barra’s employees live locally or in neighboring communities. Keeping staff and customers safe quickly became a top priority.
“We are lucky this didn’t happen when the patio was full,” said Melidis.
The restaurant was not scheduled to open for dinner service until 4 p.m. so prep cooks and limited staff helped him breakdown the patio they had set up just days earlier. Melidis opted to store all patio tables, chairs and umbrellas-anything that could be used to smash windows- inside La Barra to protect the property.
“The Riverside Police Department were outstanding in their ability to keep businesses and restaurants informed and safe during this fluid situation,” said Melidis. “They were able to close streets in and out of Riverside to keep traffic out.”
Riverside first responders have been keeping tabs on business owners in the wake of nearby violence. Melidis received a call from the fire department asking when he intended to reopen.
When the Melidis let him know La Barra is closed on Mondays, the official expressed that was for the best as concerns of more violence in the area were growing.
“The plan is to reopen on Tuesday,” said Melidis. “If we get word of continuing problems, we will take that into consideration. These are strange times.”