CHICAGO (CBS) — This has been a summer of highs and lows for Chicago’s restaurant industry, as diners have seen new places open and others close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

We wondered about the spots that are hanging on.

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As CBS 2’s Lauren Victory reported, the patio at Wood, at 3335 N. Halsted St. in Boystown, was empty Monday because the restaurant was closed for Labor Day. So why give up revenue when the industry has already taken such a hit because of COVID-19?

The general manager said staff usually get the holiday, and especially deserved it after a rollercoaster of a summer.

Meanwhile at Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles, at 3947 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. in Bronzeville, the syrup is still sticky. The situation is sticky too.

“We usually have a full house, mostly every day,” said manager Emma Hester.

A return of business is a beautiful sight, said Hester and general manager Brian Mills. But it has been quite the season keeping up with customers, and dealing with the city’s constantly changing restaurant rules.

“We’re rolling with the punches right now,” Mills said.

They and other Chicago restaurants gone from carry-out-only restrictions through Memorial Day to outdoor seating only until July 4th.

And after that, getting “back to normal” hit a rocky start for many – including the staff back at Wood.

“There were major protests in the area. We had to board up our windows on the 2nd of June, the day before we were going to first be allowed to have people at the restaurant again,” said Wood general manager Jeremiah Duncan.

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Before that, Wood was attempting to make ends meet through takeout orders. In April and May, the patio was going unused because of COVID-19 rules, so owners lent it to another struggling industry – events design.

A popup fundraising flower shop outside Wood drew interest from sidewalk traffic that occasionally was hungry too.

“There were so many question marks, but once we were able to open up the patio, the response was incredible,” Duncan said.

It was a triumphant feeling, but will it continue? Labor Day will give way to Halloween and Thanksgiving and beyond, and when the cold sets in, the patios will be gone.

How can restaurants weather the cold when Chicago rules still cap indoor dining at 25 percent?

“We’ll just have to see what happens, you know?” Mills said. We don’t know if we’ll be able to open up fully or if we’ll still have to keep our social distancing.”

The Illinois Restaurant Association said its top priority right now is fighting to increase Chicago’s 25 percent capacity rule. At the same time, the group is partnering with the City of Chicago to offer $5,000 cash to people who come up with the best ideas for eating in the indoors and outdoors when the weather turns.

The Winter Design Challenge ends at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Winners will be announced at the end of the month.

Corporate sponsors will likely fund pilot programs of the chosen ideas after that.


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Lauren Victory