CHICAGO (CBS) — Suburban restaurant owners and their employees were grappling with devastating news Tuesday night – a surge in coronavirus cases in DuPage, Kane, Will, and Kankakee counties has forced new rules.

Indoor dining in those counties will no longer be allowed.

With the possibility of an indoor dining shutdown also again looming in the city of Chicago, CBS 2’s Tara Molina has learned some restaurant workers feel they’re better off just staying on unemployment rather than going back to work.

Once the temperature dropped and the outdoor tables stopped filling up, Tavern on Rush, 1031 N. Rush St., took a 60 percent hit.

The restaurant group behind Tavern on Rush worries those hits will keep coming.

“We can’t take another hit,” said Steve Hartenstein, chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants. “We’re done.”

Also From CBS Chicago:

Hartenstein said if Cook County is next in line for an indoor dining shutdown, for most, that will be it.

“They’re putting an end to the restaurant industry by closing us up like this,” he said. “Why restaurants? Why are we being picked on?”

Chicago’s city leaders just said Monday they believe COVID-19 is being spread through gatherings in homes, not in public.

But the bar and restaurant shutdowns statewide aren’t the only thing Hartenstein said his restaurant group is worried about.

“If I can only earn a little bit of money because no one’s going out to eat, then I’m going to stay on unemployment,” Hartenstein said.

With so much uncertainty about the future of the industry, even in the next few weeks, he told me some restaurant workers are already choosing not to work.

“People feel like, ‘Hey, I may as well stay home,’” Hartenstein said. “‘I’m getting my money and I don’t know what is going to happen – if my business is going to be there or it isn’t going to be there.’”

Meanwhile, restaurant owners wait to see what’s next – and if more federal help is on the way in the form of a new relief package with $120 billion built in for independent bars and restaurants.

We’re told that could be the only thing that keeps a city known for its restaurant scene from losing them.

“It’s critical that we get saved here,” Hartenstein said.

Sam Toia, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Restaurant Association, also had a warning for what the consequences of renewed restrictions on restaurants could be:

“Moving backwards in phasing without any financial support will mean devastation for restaurants in Illinois — causing many to shutter for good. Currently, 78 percent of Illinois operators don’t expect their sales to return to pre-COVID levels within the next six months. 53 percent say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business without government assistance if business conditions continue at current levels.

“If our restaurants have any hope of making it through the winter, especially given potential rollbacks, they need government support, now. Congress needs to pass the RESTAURANTS Act, which calls for $120 billion in industrywide relief. At the very least, we need short-term action: another round of PPP funding, tax credits for investments that enhance the safety of customers and employees, and expansion of the Employee Retention Tax Credit. Conservative estimates indicate that at least 20 percent of restaurants will be forced to close their doors permanently. This would mean 120,000 jobs in Illinois, gone. We cannot allow this to happen.”

 

Tara Molina