CHICAGO (October 30, 2020) The Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) and restaurant industry operators and workers gathered this morning for a press conference to discuss the disastrous impact of Governor JB Pritzker's mitigation plan as indoor dining is forced to once again cease throughout the state. The event was held outdoors at the IRA's downtown office building (33 W. Monroe).
Speakers elaborated on the catastrophic effect of the Governor's recent rollback on the state's largest private sector employer and the livelihoods of thousands of workers, as well as the IRA's legal steps in the fight to save Illinois' restaurant industry.
Attendees heard from Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association; Jodi Fyfe, Founder and Owner of The Paramount Group and the now shuttered Eden restaurant; DaJuan Bennet, a server at Tavern on Rush; and Francisco "Paco" Hernandez, a senior server at Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse.
Restaurants in Crisis
Toia began the program outlining restaurants' plight since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and most recently, the Governor's extreme mitigation strategy. By Sunday, he stated, approximately 90 percent of the state's restaurants will be closed for indoor dining.
"Make no mistake," Toia said, "Illinois restaurants are in a moment of complete crisis. Closing indoor dining means that the majority of restaurants will no longer be able to sustain their operations. Takeout, delivery and curbside pickup equate to only a small fraction of normal revenue. They are having painful conversations again with dedicated team members whom they will no longer be able to employ. And with no broad-based state or federal relief on the horizon, there seems to be no end in sight."
Based on recent survey results, 55 percent of Illinois operators say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in businesses six months from now if business conditions continue at current levels. The most conservative estimates say that a minimum of 20 percent of restaurants will close nationwide. That equates to 120,000 jobs in Illinois, gone.
Toia also reminded attendees of the industry's status as the most highly regulated when it comes to health and safety, making the industry unfairly singled out for closure in the state's mitigation plan.
"99 percent of restaurant operators have done everything that has been asked of them up to this point," added Toia. "We are sanitizing. We are distancing. We are testing regularly. We are wearing masks. We are requiring reservations. We are taking contact information. We've improved air filtration systems. We've installed dividers between spaces. And so much more.
We all agree that private, uncontrolled gatherings are a leading cause of the rise in cases. Closing restaurants for indoor service will result in the exact opposite of the intended impact of slowing the spread, as it drives people further into uncontrolled, unmonitored private gatherings with few safety precautions in place. According to state data sourced from 'Documenting COVID-19 project at The Brown Institute for Media Innovation', which represents approximately 10 percent of cases through September 2020, restaurants account for only 1 percent of cases statewide.
Restaurants are here to serve, and the IRA stands ready to work with the Governor to collaborate on a more reasonable and pragmatic approach to mitigation that can give restaurants some hope that they can get through this."
The speakers that followed provided chilling accounts of how the pandemic has affected their businesses, livelihoods and the circumstances of those around them from closing restaurants and laying off hundreds of employees to witnessing the struggles of fellow peers. Industry representatives from a spectrum of restaurants attended to stand in solidarity with the IRA and the statewide industry.
Jodi Fyfe, Founder and Owner of The Paramount Group,matt shuttered her beloved West Loop restaurant, Eden, in July as a result of untenable financial losses stemming from COVID-19. Between her private event venue, The Lakewood, and her catering businesses, Paramount Events and Truffleberry Market, business is down 90 percent in 2020.
"We went from 536 employees to 24 and have never worked harder in our lives," she said. "These overly restrictive measures for industries that operate as safely as ours only make matters worse when there is no financial relief from the state and no second round of PPP funding or other supportive measures finalized at the federal level. We are fighting to stay alive every day. Where is the help?"
DaJuan Bennet of Tavern on Rush expressed his fear of the "mass round of layoffs" looming ahead as a result of dining room closures, while emphasizing that there "has to be a way" for the state to allow for continued dine-in operations at some level given the extensive health and safety standards to which he and his colleagues are held. Francisco "Paco" Hernandez at Gibsons echoed these sentiments, adding "Restaurants are a family we look out for each other, we bring people together, and we keep people safe. Workers like me are ready and willing to continue serving customers in a smart way; we just need the opportunity to do so."
The IRA has repeatedly called upon Governor Pritzker to take a more reasonable and pragmatic approach to mitigation and collaborate on a plan that is less detrimental to the state's largest private sector employer.
"We have heard how precarious and unjustified these restrictions are to the industry and our economy, and it is important that our legal efforts align with the interests of the businesses and passionate individuals who make up our restaurant community," said Toia.
Several lawsuits have already been filed by businesses statewide challenging the legality and unfairness of the state's restrictions. Some have been pending for some time, with active filings in Kane County, Sangamon County, McHenry County and most recently, Cook County. One of those cases, the case pending in Kane County, has quickly progressed and the issues are currently before the Illinois Appellate Court.
In support of these operators and to ensure that the IRA's interests are protected in those lawsuits, the IRA announced today that it is partnering with the Washington D.C.-based Restaurant Law Center to prepare an amicus brief to file in the pending lawsuits.
This and future briefs will assert the industry's position and protect its interests making compelling arguments that challenge the executive orders, the mitigation restrictions imposed through those orders and the unfairness in which the restaurant industry has been targeted.
"This is brisk, prudent action we can take now to support favorable rulings that are underway," said Toia. "There will be more. It is important for the Courts to hear about our rights, and how we've been harmed as an industry.
The 25,000+ operators, and the 594,000 workers in our industry deserve their day in court."
About Illinois Restaurant Association. Founded in 1914, the Illinois Restaurant Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, protecting, educating and improving the restaurant industry in Illinois. The IRA owns and produces Chicago Gourmet the annual food and wine festival uniting hundreds of restaurants, chefs and beverage experts for a weekend filled with food and drink tastings, entertainment, cooking demonstrations, book signings, interactive seminars and more. For more information about the Illinois Restaurant Association, visit www.illinoisrestaurants.org and follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.