CHICAGO (CBS) — Many restaurants fully re-opened the second that pandemic rules lifted in Illinois; hungry for customers, not realizing they’d be starving for staff.

Some places took their time and waited to cash in on summer crowds, but then the Delta variant arrived.

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Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside one eatery that’s held out more than a year and half to hold their soft re-opening on Monday.

The sounds of salad mixing and the smell of pizza cooking haven’t materialized at Sopraffina Marketcaffe in a very long time. The assembly line responsible for making mouth-watering creations hasn’t been fired up since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“You lose a lot of muscle memory, surprisingly enough. A lot of people remember the actual recipe, but when they go to make it, it’s challenging,” said general manager Dave Boehm.

CBS 2 caught up with him in the middle of training for the Adam Street location’s soft re-opening on Monday. Sopraffina’s breakfast and lunch service will officially be available to the public on Wednesday, October 13, which is almost 19 months to the day since the restaurant shut down.

Boehm and more than 100 employees were laid off, but he didn’t hesitate to return.

“I missed our family,” he said.

In fact, all of the employees working at the re-opened Adams Street Sopraffina are former employees.

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Lead cook Judy Gomez made money during the hiatus as a warehouse worker and cleaner.

“I put in my two-week notice [to the cleaning company]. She said, ‘Why are you leaving us?’. [I said] ‘The restaurant I used to work at is going to open, and I want to come back, and I’ve been waiting for this moment,’” said Gomez.

“It’s been difficult to estimate when the best time would be,” said Taryn Kelly, vice president of development.

We asked her why all five Sopraffina locations stayed fully shut down for so long.

“We didn’t have anybody to deliver to, or to cater to, because nobody was working downtown,” said Kelly. “It’s been a struggle for all restaurants across the country. I think the fact that we are a restaurant located in the central business district of major city makes it even more of a struggle.”

The hope is that the practice breakfast service CBS 2 peeked in on mimics the real deal starting at their public re-opening on Wednesday.

“We feel like we’re right on the brink of office tenants coming back,” said Kelly.

They’re testing the temperature at only the 222 W. Adams St. location right now. If all goes well, the Wacker, Randolph, and Jackson locations will soon follow suit.

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The Sopraffina on Dearborn is permanently closed.

Lauren Victory