By Bob Uphues
With Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker expected to announce that the state is ready to move into Phase 3 of his Restore Illinois plan, the Riverside Village Board on May 27 is expected to pass an ordinance that will allow local restaurants the ability to use public rights of way to maximize the amount of outdoor dining space available to local restaurants.
The special meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m., will be available to the public on Riverside TV Channel 6 (Comcast), Channel 99 (U-Verse) and at riversidetv.us.
According to Village President Ben Sells, so far two Riverside restaurants – The Chew Chew, 33 E. Burlington St., and La Barra, 2 E. Burlington St. -- have indicated they will be opening tables for outdoor dining as early as Friday, May 29.
While restaurants in North Riverside and Brookfield also will gain the ability to serve diners in outdoor settings, Riverside is the first to establish a way for areas such as on-street parking spaces to be used for such a purpose.
"We're drafting this kind of loose to give as much empowering authority to staff so they don't have to run back to the board for every plan," said Ben Sells. "We're saying to the restaurants, we're doing everything we can within the parameters set by the governor to give you as many tables as possible."
Scott Zimmer, owner of The Chew Chew, told the Landmark on Tuesday morning that he hoped to begin setting up 12 tables outside of the restaurant, both on the sidewalk next to the restaurant and in the parking spaces on East Burlington Street immediately in front of the business.
He and his staff met on Memorial Day to hammer out plans and procedures for outdoor dining after getting guidelines from the governor on Sunday.
"At this time, every table we can use is a win," said Zimmer, whose restaurants, The Chew and Sawmilly, located next door, have been serving customers via carryout and delivery since Pritzker prohibited indoor dining on March 17.
"We're doing our best to adjust on short notice and do it safely."
Zimmer said The Chew Chew is getting outdoor dining tables donated to the restaurant temporarily by Morton College, which has also offered to transport them to the site and set them up.
The restaurant and Morton College have a relationship going back years, said Zimmer, and that when officials heard Zimmer was looking to open for outdoor dining, they offered to let him use furniture not in use at the college, whose campus is closed at this time due to the pandemic.
In addition to the tables outdoors, Zimmer said The Chew Chew will also be able to serve diners at five tables inside the restaurant, since the governor's guidelines allow indoor spaces to be used if they are located next to an exterior wall where at least 50 percent of window coverings can be removed.
"We have five indoor tables that can be used even in a downpour," Zimmer said.
Zimmer has also submitted building permits for a new outdoor dining area on a brick paver patio immediately east of the building where The Chew Chew is located. That dining area has been in the works for about a year, and the village board earlier this month approved design changes for the space, which will incorporate requirements for social distancing.
"We're going to start with the 12 outdoor tables and five interior ones," Zimmer said. "Once we have that working, we'll be able to expand [with the new patio seating] and get even more dining space."
Sells said the village would not have to close the sidewalk on the south side of East Burlington Street in front of The Chew Chew/Sawmilly during dinner hours.
"We don't want people walking back and forth through the dining area," Sells said.
Ceasar Melidis, general manager of La Barra Ristorante, said the popular Riverside Italian restaurant would be opening 18 tables for outdoor dining on Friday, May 29 along both the Longcommon Road and East Burlington Street frontages of the building.
The outdoor dining area will open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, according to Melidis, with the kitchen closing at 9 p.m. La Barra is recommending diners make reservations, because they intend on seating parties at their tables every hour on the hour, with the last seating at 8 p.m.
"We're excited to open, but we're giving the governor's strict guidelines our full attention," Melidis said.
Tables will be located along Longcommon Road both under the covered patio area and on the sidewalk closer to the street, with room for pedestrians to walk between the rows of tables.
Along the East Burlington Street frontage, where there is not as much room, the sidewalk will be closed during dining hours from the front entrance of the restaurant to the carryout door.
A hostess' stand will be located right at the front entrance to greet diners and take them to their tables. The plan is to try to call or text those with reservations to give them notice of when to arrive.
"This is new for everyone who's been the hospitality business," Melidis said. "The safety of our diners, employees and our families is paramount. We're going to do whatever it takes to follow the state's guidelines."
This story has been changed to include updated information on outdoor dining at La Barra and update the village's position on keeping the eidewalk in front of The Chew Chew open during dining hours.