Restaurants struggle to survive as future post-coronavirus remains unclear

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Closed to customers since March and limited to carry-out business, restaurants in Illinois are reeling.

In Lakeview’s normally lively Southport corridor, nearly every shop is closed and foot traffic is sparse. But the Mexican restaurant Tuco and Blondie is open and mixing margaritas to-go.

Regular Shelby Frasier stopped by to pick up tacos Thursday, doing her part to pick up the local economy.

“Any way that we can support them to still keep them in business is really great for us and really great for anyone around the community,” Frasier said. 

Financial services giant UBS predicts one in five restaurants across the county will close because of the coronavirus crisis.

Four Star Restaurant Group, which owns Tuco and Bondie along with Chicago neighborhood staples like Crosby’s Kitchen, Smoke Daddy Barbecue and Ella Elli among others, is not immune to the pandemic’s economic effects.

“The impact the coronavirus has had on our business has been absolutely devastating,” Four Star Restaurant Group owner Doug Dunlay said.

Dunlay announced Tuesday that he’s permanently closing two restaurants, The Windsor in Streeterville and a wine bar in Lombard. So far, he’s had to lay off 425 employees, and he said many of them are having trouble making unemployment claims.

For those still on the payroll, Dunlay said he’s worried about the future of his remaining restaurants. Even beyond when they first re-open, it’s unclear how restaurants will survive in the long-term.

“Without any business travelers, without any conventions, without festivals, concerts, sporting events cancelled, tourism cut in at least half, what does that look like for a restaurant down on Michigan Avenue?” Dunlay asked.

In the meantime, Dunlay is still worried about paying rent, bank loans and utilities with drastically reduced income over the next few months.

Without major action to rescue the restaurant industry, Dunlay warms once lively streets like Southport could look very different in the future – and it could have a ripple effect on the larger economy.

“Many of those restaurants have bank debt; the banks, the landlords are going to suffer. It’s going to be a mess,” Dunlay said.

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