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Chicago Alderman Roasted for Serving Customers Indoors at His Restaurant

Ald. Tom Tunney is the former chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association

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Before he was an alderman, Tom Tunney would serve customers at this restaurant.
Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

After being outed on Monday for serving customers indoors at Ann Sather restaurant, Ald. (44th Ward) Tom Tunney — a former chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association — issued a statement saying that it won’t happen again as “this was an error in judgement.” Photos published Monday morning show diners on Thursday, December 3, eating inside Ann Sather in Lakeview, thus ignoring state and local COVID-19 safety rules.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker halted indoor service on October 30 in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs as he cited increased novel coronavirus hospitalizations. The photos were published Monday in Second City Cop, a blog by an anonymous Chicago police officer. Block Club Chicago followed up on that post gathering a statement from Tunney where he admits that the restaurant has seated regulars “on a sporadic basis.” The Tribune reports that the city hasn’t received any complaints. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office tells the paper the rules should apply to everyone. No citations or fines have been made public.

There have been reports across the city of some operators ignoring the ban and seating regular customers. For instance, the Palm in Gold Coast isn’t bashful about offering indoor dining. Tunney’s ward includes Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and Boystown. He’s been alderman for 17 years and has owned Ann Sather — a Chicago landmark known for its cinnamon rolls — since 1981.

Tunney has been vocal while on the City Council in establishing policies for restaurants, including the third-party delivery service cap that was adopted in November. He’s also been blamed in developing policy that prevented Chicago’s food truck scene from flourishing compared to other American cities. As he’s a former chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association, his priority has been traditional restaurants, not upstart food trucks that were perceived as threats.

Illinois Restaurant Association President and CEO Sam Toia provided this statement:

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Illinois Restaurant Association has advised all operators to follow executive orders passed by the governor and the mayor. We are an industry on the brink of devastation. Nearly 70 percent of Illinois restaurant operators have indicated they will close within six months without additional financial support. We continue to fight for broad-based relief from the federal government to help our industry survive and keep their team members employed.

Toia tells the Sun-Times virtually the same thing the alderman shared in his statement. Toia says Tunney “made an error in judgment” and he “would hope it won’t happen again.” The association is the state’s lobby group where Tunney served as chair in 2000 and has been negotiating with Pritzker to bring back indoor dining. Pritzker says that won’t happen anytime soon. The obsession with indoor dining could be seen as a distraction to the getting real help from the federal government. Earlier on Monday, the National Restaurant Association issued a news release urging financial relief from the federal government.

Several Chicago restaurant owners reached out to Eater Chicago angry, calling Tunney a hypocrite. They’re frustrated that they’ve been forced to follow a safety standard that a government official — a policymaker— refuses to follow. Still, those outside of Chicago — elsewhere in the state where folks don’t support Pritzker — have cheered Tunney’s open defiance of the governor. The episode is reminiscent of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s infamous dinner at the French Laundry.

During his Monday afternoon news briefing, Pritzker was forgiving to Tunney saying that the alderman had admitted his mistake.

  • Operating in Plain Sight [Second City Cop]
  • Chicago Alderman’s Restaurant Caught Defying Indoor Dining Ban: ‘Someone Ratted Us Out,’ Employee Says [Block Club Chicago]
  • Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney allowed diners inside his Ann Sather restaurant in violation of COVID-19 rules, calls it an ‘error in judgment’ [Tribune]
  • Why Chicago’s once-promising food truck scene stalled out [Reader]
  • Ald. Tom Tunney served restaurant customers indoors, defying state and city orders [Sun-Times]
  • Defiant Restaurateurs Are Distracting From What the Industry and Its Workers Really Need Right Now — Relief [Eater Detroit]
  • Restaurant Lobby Survey Puts Pressure on Federal Government for Relief [Eater Chicago]
  • Bay Area Mayors Confess to Dubious Dining Decisions [Eater SF]

Ann Sather

909 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (773) 348-2378 Visit Website