Restaurants face tough choices during mitigation


EDWARDSVILLE – As of Friday, new pandemic restrictions have been in place for Illinois, including a 25% capacity limit for retail stores and health and fitness centers and a 50% capacity limit for grocery stores and pharmacies.

For bars and restaurants, operating with some level of mitigation has become a way of life over the past eight months. Under Level 3 mitigation measures, which are now in effect, the State of Illinois has required that no indoor dining be allowed and that tents used for outdoor dining must be open on both sides.

In Edwardsville, which operates under a state of emergency declared by Mayor Hal Patton on Tuesday, there is no specified fine / penalty for violating the emergency order, although violations may result in the issuance of tickets and / or a hearing in the city’s municipal court.

But a growing number of bars and restaurants, including several in Edwardsville, have chosen to stay open for indoor dining.

For most of these establishments, the main consideration is keeping their employees at work.

“We care a lot about our staff and care about public health a lot, but honestly, it really feels like our industry is being harassed,” said Travis Dudley, Managing Director of Mike Shannon’s Grill in Edwardsville. “Go to Walmart today and try to buy some toilet paper and tell me these orders haven’t had a negative impact on people’s sanity and their perception of things.

“In the meantime, we keep jumping through every hoop they put in place. In two or three weeks, if the numbers go down they will expect us to reopen, but if we close now, how is my staff supposed to have vacation next month? “

Current hours at Mike Shannon are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

“We were a restaurant seven days a week, but we closed Monday during closure because it’s a slow day anyway,” Dudley said. “We’ve gone from a sustainable business to people so worried (about the virus) that we don’t see many people. (Wednesday) we had a few people, but they are the same people that I see regularly.

“We go through this every time (Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health) make statements. We’re not too worried about this because we’ve been doing it since March, but every time someone comes out and sets a new rule our numbers go down and it’s hurting our business and I’m pretty excited about it.

At Bella Milano in Edwardsville, additional security measures are in place as the restaurant continues to serve meals on the terrace. It is not open for indoor dining.

“We had a strong take-out presence before all of this happened and since then we’ve been doing a lot of new promotions, things like family packs,” said Malcom Isaacs, director of Bella Milano. “We wanted to stay in business and keep everyone working and we didn’t let anyone go. No one wanted to leave, so everyone kept their jobs.

“We have implemented many safety measures, such as putting plexiglass between the cabins and a four-step disinfection process. We have hand sanitizer everywhere and the staff wear masks and gloves. We have an operations manager who really keeps on top of it all and makes sure we’re as safe as possible. “

While take-out sales have resumed at Bella Milano since the start of the pandemic, the restaurant still has a constant volume of customers on the terrace.

“All business has gone down a bit, but we have a heated patio that was already popular before the pandemic and we’re staying busy,” Isaacs said. “I think it was difficult for everyone, whether it was a host, a chef, a manager, a bartender or any other position. But at first our owners made it clear that they had prepared for something like this and that we had nothing to worry about. They had action plans to conduct their business safely.

In the restaurant business, where profit margins are slim at the best of times, the pandemic has forced restaurants to downsize or find other ways to stay afloat.

“We don’t have a lot of people coming because people are scared so we had to make some tough choices,” Dudley said. “Rather than reducing staff, we made the choice to get rid of about 60 to 70% of the food options on our menu. I know guests like scallops and Cajun shrimp have been with us for eight years, but the money to pay for the shrimp that will hang around is money I could spend on the employees.

As restaurants and other businesses face the latest round of downturns, Dudley hopes local restaurants that have remained open will continue to function as a unified force.

“A few weeks ago the Chamber of Commerce (Edwardsville / Glen Carbon) got the bar and restaurant owners together and we talked about how we weren’t going to close, and no one closed, but they all claimed to have done it, ”Dudley mentioned. “I’m more honest about this – there are people out there who need us to be open. Unless Hal Patton wants to pay them to stay home, I have to sell food.

“When Walmart goes curb, we’ll go curb. I have 36 employees that I need to make a decision on in the near future, but in the meantime we have adjusted our business model to compensate for it. This back and forth is bad for restaurants and we have people that we’ve fired three or four times in the last eight months, and here we are again after bringing them back less than a month ago.

Cleveland-Heath, in downtown Edwardsville, is not open for indoor dining, but offers patio dining and take out.

“Times are tough, but we stay open and try to keep our staff employed,” said Keith McGinness, co-owner of Cleveland-Heath with his wife, Kari. “We still offer meals on the terrace, but our focus is more on take out with the bad weather around the corner. We’re moving to a family-style take-out menu on top of our full menu, with affordable family meals of $ 10 or less per person.

“We will probably try the delivery and we are working on the logistics behind it. We’re making a family Thanksgiving take-out meal, and we’ll be doing something similar for Christmas if we’re still under the same cutoffs.

McGinness and other restaurateurs suggest buying gift cards to support local businesses.

Most importantly, McGinness wants to make sure her staff and clients are safe.

“We meet and exceed required security protocols. Our staff wear gloves when serving and obviously masks are mandatory, and we have disinfectant at every point of entry. On each shift, we check staff temperatures and practice social distancing. “

In the meantime, the Edwardsville / Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce has launched several initiatives to support the restaurant industry.

“We have encouraged local restaurants to seek reimbursement for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through a program established by the City of Edwardsville with CURES funds,” said House President and CEO Desire Bennyhoff. . “Our local dining establishments are part of what makes our community so special. We are truly a foodie destination, and right now this industry is at a critical tipping point. “

While some restaurants have chosen to close or not offer indoor dining, Mike Shannon’s Grill and other local establishments try to keep diners happy and safe while keeping their staff employed.

“We kind of expect the rest of Edwardsville to do what they did the last time we went through this,” Dudley said. “No one wanted to go out and say they were open, but no one closed last time.

“Everyone says they’re going to shut down this time and they’re posting this and that, but I have 36 people on our staff who are forcing me to make decisions to keep them on the job.”

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