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Daily Journal
     March 17, 2020      #31-77 KDJ
 

Restaurants, bars close; future uncertain 

By Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com


Bradley-based Yolks & Berries restaurant is normally nearly filled on most Monday mornings.

On this Monday, however, perhaps only half of its dining room was occupied.

Today, it will be vacant as owner Lambros Proutsos has decided to close the location entirely — meaning no carry-out meals — as the first day of state-mandated closure of all restaurants and bars to dine-in customers takes effect in an effort to contain the potential spread of the coronavirus.

“We just came to this decision today,” Proutsos said late Monday morning. “With what’s going on and the fact that so many of us don’t know what’s going to happen next, we felt this was the best move. ... We felt the safest move is to shut down.”

For the next two weeks — and potentially even longer based on the possible spread of the virus — restaurants and bars across Illinois have been largely closed. Some restaurants remain open for carry-out orders.

The industry is entering unchartered territory as of today.

“This is an unprecedented time,” Proutsos said. “No one knows what is going to happen. But for the safety of our workers, we just felt it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Kankakee County is not unlike any other community: restaurants and bars are a significant portion of the county’s economy.

These locations are also gathering points.

John Thompson of Kankakee was finishing his breakfast at Kankakee’s Paul’s Place at about 9 a.m. Monday. Seated with two friends, they said Monday’s gathering would the last for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t know what to believe anymore,” said Thompson. “... I never thought it would come to this point.”

Scott Trumble, co-owner of Paul’s Place, said it wasn’t until Sunday when the decision was made to close the restaurant entirely for the next two weeks.

“There has been no time to prepare. Hopefully in two weeks from now we’ll be back open,” he said. Trumble said during these upcoming days maintenance will be completed.

“We have nothing to compare this to. Every day it’s been something new,” he said.

Paul’s Place, Yolks & Berries and Kankakee westside restaurant, Carlo’s, have one key factor in their favor. They are well-known, established locations. They have a better chance of weathering the storm.

Inside Carlos restaurant, Phyllis Reigel finished the breakfast she was enjoying with the her husband, Edwin. They dine out about three times a week and the westside restaurant is one of their frequent stops.

“We are trying to maintain a normal life. I’m not going to be afraid,” the 77-year-old Bonfield woman said. “I think many people are scared.”

Unlike Paul’s and Yolks & Berries, Carlos will be offering carry-out services.

Since no one has been through this, the unknown can be overwhelming.

Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said there is one thing he knows for certain. The federal government must step in to help out Illinois bars and restaurants.

He said the industry is the largest business sector in the state, employing some 588,000. He noted there are 25,000 restaurants across the state which generate some $30 million in annual sales.

He said it is important residents know many locations will continue offering drive-thru, pick-up and delivery services. He estimated 40 percent of restaurants will completely shut down during the next two weeks.

“Just like the federal government did in 2008 for the auto and the banking industries, they need to restaurants. What is happening right now is devastating. We have to figure this out and do it quickly,” he said.

“Many of these businesses operate week to week or month to month. We will lose tons of restaurants if the feds don’t step up. They must step up and step up fast,” he said. “This is the biggest crisis ever faced by this industry.”

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Lee Provost