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Alderman Tom Tunney’s Chicago Restaurant Faces $10,500 in Fines as Owners Rage About His Hypocrisy

Restaurant owners, already suffering during the pandemic, are furious at the alderman’s disregard for COVID-19 safety

A storefront of a restaurant.
Ann Sather has been open since 1945.
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.

The city of Chicago has cited Ann Sather twice for serving customers indoors and ignoring the state’s COVID-19 safety rules. Ald. (44th Ward) Tom Tunney owns the Lakeview fixture which violated the state’s indoor dining ban instituted on October 30 as novel coronavirus cases spiked. An amount will be determined at a future administrative hearing, as the restaurant faces a maximum $10,500 fine, according to the city.

Tunney, whose ward encompasses Wrigleyville and Lakeview, is a former chair of the Illinois Restaurant Association. He and his restaurant were outed Monday in a blog post that showed photos taken last week of customers eating inside Ann Sather, a popular breakfast restaurant near Belmont and Clark that’s been open for 75 years. Tunney would admit to serving regular customers indoors and promised his staff would cease dining room service. The alderman admits his restaurant violated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate on indoor dining, but Tunney still stresses staff required social distancing for customers.

Pritzker was asked about Tunney during a Monday afternoon news conference and the governor responded by saying elected officials should be setting an example. During his news conference on Tuesday, Pritzker didn’t mention Tunney but he did admonish restaurant owners who serve customers indoors and said people will get sick as a result of indoor dining during the pandemic. Restaurant owners who offer indoor service, a group that presumably would include Tunney, would have to “live with that the rest of their lives,” Pritzker said.

Tunney is a key ally of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as the Tribune points out and he wields clout as the chair of the city’s zoning committee. He’s also exerted influence in establishing policies that affect the city’s food industry. Most notable, Tunney shaped the city’s guidelines surrounding food trucks. Those rules are noted as some the most stringent in the country, rules that make it difficult for small businesses to prosper. While cities like LA and New York see some food trucks rise to the same level of popularity as restaurants, the city’s rules have muffled that potential in favor of aiding restaurant owners afraid that food trucks would steal profits.

The food truck lobby has tried to fight the restrictions but haven’t found success. In 2016, the state’s Supreme Court upheld the city’s regulations on where food trucks could park. Food truck operators have said they have no room downtown to set up shop as the city’s rules were arbitrary. City officials claimed restrictions were in the name of traffic safety.

Those strict regulations have a last impact in hurting businesses during the pandemic. For example, Jason Vincent — owner of Giant in Logan Square and Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar in Bucktown — took to social media to ask if his food truck could sell alcohol. Lifting the restriction ”would literally save the business” he tweeted. Trucks in Austin, Texas can sell beer. Las Vegas has no open container laws. Trucks in Portland can sell beer and wine.

Truck owners who have survived despite the challenges where angry on Monday. When Shaun Podgursky, owner of Dmen Tap and the Donermen food truck, heard about Tunney violating the indoor dining ban, feelings of frustration resurfaced.

“Seeing this news as a food truck owner who has had to scrape a living out the past seven years because of the Draconian laws written by this person, while watching other cities like Austin, Los Angeles, and even Indianapolis thrive is really painful,” he tells Eater Chicago. “[Tunney] literally kiboshed entrepreneurship for people with limited investment opportunity, many of them people of color or with immigrant backgrounds. Shame!”

Other restaurant owners across the city expressed their own frustration. Ty Fujimura — who owns Arami in West Town, Small Bar in Logan Square, and Entente in River North — called for Tunney to step down from the City Council. Fujimura says that Tunney should be held accountable for disrespecting his constituents in the restaurant community. The actions felt “wildly inappropriate.”

Ann Sather received two citations: One that could result in a $10,000 fine, and another that brings a maximum of $500, according to the city. Tunney has been an alderman since 2003. Ann Sather, known for its Swedish breakfasts, has been open since 1945.

Ann Sather

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