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As Restaurants Suffer, Alderman Says Hotels and Airbnbs Profit With Underground Parties

Plus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s press secretary debunks a false claim circulating around Chicago’s restaurant community

A restaurant employee takes a customer’s temperature with a forehead thermometer.
Chicago’s test positivity rate continues to increase.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

A Chicago alderman claims the indoor dining ban is pushing people toward hosting large and unregulated weekend parties at local hotels and Airbnb. These underground weekend gatherings could become super-spreader events, local elected officials argue, according to the Sun-Times.

Some hotels have even turned the practice into a business model, Ald. (42nd Ward) Brendan Reilly said Tuesday at a City Council budget hearing. He accused those establishments of profiting off bar and restaurant closures as hospitality businesses bear the brunt of regulations and penalties when they allow similar behavior. Reilly’s comments come as Chicago’s COVID-19 test positivity rate reaches 13.6 percent and the city’s hospitality industry continues to struggle along under pandemic safety restrictions.

The Illinois Restaurant Association are also positioning restaurants as a scapegoat: “Closing all indoor dining for restaurants, among the most highly regulated in terms of health and safety, will force people into less controlled, private gatherings with no safety precautions – resulting in the exact opposite of slowing the spread of COVID-19,” a Facebook post reads.

The same post reads that Illinois is the only state in the U.S. where indoor dining is “completely shut down.” While other states have not entirely banned indoor dining, many cities have placed restrictions on the practice, deemed one of the riskiest pandemic pastimes by public health experts. The piecemeal method — which has progressed in lieu of guidance from the federal government — has yielded results similar to statewide bans in other parts of the country.

Cities and counties in California, including Riverside and Los Angeles, are fluctuating between allowing some indoor dining and no indoor dining at all as case numbers change. San Francisco will officially pause all dine-in service starting Friday; bar seating in New Jersey is prohibited indefinitely as of Thursday, and restaurants need to close indoor dining by 10 p.m.; New York City mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday called for the city’s current indoor dining allowances to be “reevaluated” following a recent increase in positive cases; bars and clubs in Puerto Rico remain closed completely; and fellow midwestern state Minnesota will require restaurants to close by 10 p.m. beginning Friday as rumors swirl that another full shutdown is coming.

Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) Commissioner Rosa Escareno said she’s working with police and the Hotel Lodging Association, though association President Michael Jacobson says anti-discrimination rules keep hotel staff from being able to do much about young groups of guests.

When it comes to enforcement, Escareno said BACP has collected about $10.6 million in non-compliance fines and issued 400 citations for pandemic-related compliance issues in Chicago, Escareno added, according to Daily Line reporter Alex Nitkin — a 23 percent drop from the $13 million in fines collected at this time last year.

And in other news...

— BMO Harris bank has earmarked a “significant investment” for Chicago as a part of its $5 billion program aimed at supporting minority-owned businesses and underserved communities, the Tribune reports. The five-year initiative will focus on expanding commercial lending for Black- and Latinx-owned businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank has not yet announced how much of the investment is set aside for Chicago specifically. An informational event, that includes Mayor Lori Lightfoot and basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, is scheduled for Thursday — register at the link. The effort is called BMO EMpower, and updates will be provided at the program’s site.

— Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s press secretary had to step in on Tuesday to debunk a piece of propaganda that was circulating around Chicago’s restaurant community. On Tuesday, a tweet that contained a photo and caption that claimed Pritzker’s daughter was ignoring the state’s restrictions on outdoor dining began gaining popularity. Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh responded and tweeted out a post that declared that Pritzker’s daughter isn’t in the photo. The photo captured a table packed with more than six people sitting on a restaurant’s patio. In an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, the state has imposed the table limit. That’s angered some restaurant owners — and the Illinois Restaurant Association — who feel the industry is being unfairly blamed for the pandemic. But there’s another layer as Pritzker’s political foes also claim the governor is overstepping his authority. They’re using the restriction on outdoor dining as political ammunition against Pritzker. Abudayyeh writes in her tweet to “stop using children as pawns in dangerous conspiracies. I’d say let’s have some decency, but that seems in short supply with some lately. Wear a mask, keep your distance & don’t lie.”

Aya Pastry in West Town has been a pandemic success story as customers have flocked for fresh bread, creative pastries, and Sparrow coffee. Aya Fukai has also expanded her wholesale business, selling baked goods to several of Chicago’s top coffeeshops. Aya is now pivoting again. On Thursday, the bakery will launch Aya Express, a drive-thru where customers motor through the back parking lot and pickup food and drink without leaving their cars. From 7 a.m. to noon, the operations will offer grab-and-go items like croissants, scallion, cheddar biscuits, cookies, and more. They’ll also serve up coffee, cider, and hot chocolate, plus exclusive drive-thru items like demi baguette and breakfast pockets stuffed with eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Customers can also now order online and select drive-thru for pickup. Aya Pastry is located at 1332 W. Grand Avenue.

Aya Pastry

1332 West Grand Avenue, , IL 60642 (312) 846-6186 Visit Website