At least three restaurants in New Lenox have decided to keep their doors open for indoor dining despite Gov. Prtizker's order for restaurants and bars to close on Friday. Just five weeks ago, Will County was able to resume indoor dining after a similar restriction.
The order forced the restaurant owners to make tough decisions and some have decided to close, but others said they will remain open.
Gina’s Teardrop Cafe announced on Facebook Thursday morning that it will keep up with indoor dining in an effort to keep the restaurant alive and allow its employees to pay their bills.
“I have 30 people that work for me and 25 of those live in New Lenox and the other five live in Joliet,” owner Gina Buck said. “If I close my doors to just outside seating, I have nobody.”
Teardrop Cafe’s outdoor seating is only a few tables in the parking lot.
“We’re not saying we’re not going to be safe,” Buck said. “Everyone has masks on and we’re sanitizing daily like before. We’re taking every measure and doing everything we can.”
The Facebook post announcing their plans to keep indoor dining an option received more than 800 likes and hundreds of positive comments.
“We truly love and support the New Lenox community, and hope you will be supportive of our decision,” the post states. “We will also have carry out and delivery to local businesses, if you prefer to support us in that manner.”
The JBD White Horse Inn also made a post announcing their intentions to stay open and received similar praise from customers.
“While we continue to respect our community, staff, and our families health and safety, closing our doors is not an option,” the post states. “We will continue to be open for indoor dining, outdoor dining on our patio carry-out.”
It goes on to say that they will continue to keep the restaurant clean and safe for staff and customers, and thanked the community for its support.
Arrowhead Ales Brewing Company will also continue to serve customers indoors. Owner Mike Bacon cited keeping employees on staff and making sure the businesses stays afloat as reasons for staying open.
Mayor Tim Baldermann said the village of New Lenox is not an enforcement arm for the Governor’s mandate.
“We 100% support all of our businesses in New Lenox,” he said. “I understand their position. If your option is following the guidelines and shutting doors permanently or keeping open and doing so safely, then I understand them taking that position.”
Baldermann still stressed that the virus is serious and should be taken as such.
“I’m not cavalier in thinking this is a hoax or not real,” he said. “Be safe and wear a mask. I’m a believer in social distancing. All we are saying is they need to make their own decision and if they decide to stay open, they do so in the safest way.”
The shutdown of Will County has Baldermann and restaurant owners confused by the fact that it is OK for New Lenox residents to drive 15 minutes to Or land Park, or other surrounding counties, and eat indoors.
“The last time I looked, if you take our zip code, you can point out several towns in Cook County 20 minutes away that have a higher infection rate,” Baldermann said. “I know that you can’t do it town by town, but it just doesn’t make sense that New Lenox residents can drive to another community with a higher infection rate and go inside.”
COVID-19 numbers by zip code can be viewed on the Illinois Department of Public Health website.
Some restaurants were still planning what to do. Frank Gatto, owner of Gatto’s Restaurant and Bar, plans on abiding by the Governor’s mandate but is still worried about what the shutdown will do to local restaurants this time around.
Gatto’s has been serving customers outside in a large tent through the pandemic and has left it up even since indoor dining resumed.
Even with indoor dining only being at 25% then 40%, it was at least something for restaurants to work with, he said.
“It’s difficult to operate at 25% capacity because you’re still paying 100% rent, your other costs increase, your payroll increases, but you just try to deal with it,” Gatto said. “We have tried to not lay anyone off and haven’t. All these employees and their families are trying to find ways to pay mortgages. It weighs heavy.”
Gatto called the entire pandemic “unfair” for everyone. And while he believes the pandemic should also be taken seriously, and doesn't want to see anyone sick, he and other restaurant owners will have to do what they can to survive at some point.
He has said it many times before, but said again that he cannot thank the people of New Lenox enough for the ways they have supported him and other businesses since March.
“My brother and I have spent 20 years trying to build this,” Gatto said. “We’ve lost one (restaurant) and I don’t want to plan on losing any more.”