So far, the dominoes are falling which would allow Chicago’s restaurants to open in late June, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker. During his COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Pritzker confirmed that Chicago — for the first time — is meeting the health benchmarks which would allow it to progress to Phase Three (Recovery) of the state’s Restore Illinois plan. Phase Three could go into effect on May 29.
The city could fall backwards — Pritzker clarified that the benchmarks are about “averages over a period of time.” For now, this paves the way for dine-in restaurants and bars to reopen on June 26. That’s the earliest date for when Phase Four (Revitalization) of the governor’s five-phase plan could begin. The Illinois Department of Public Health has posted a scorecard online so residents can keep track of progress. The state’s plan divides Illinois into four and Chicago resides in the Northeast Region. The region’s positivity rate (the percentage of tests that return positive for COVID-19) was the lagging factor before Thursday.
Bars and restaurants would reopen in Chicago with reduced capacity and social distancing. That’s not the case in Wisconsin where on Wednesday the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court struck down its stay-at-home order. America’s Dairyland is now without statewide novel coronavirus regulations — Democrat Gov. Tony Evers called it the “wild west.” Restaurants and bars can reopen without restrictions. Local authorities can still issue their own mandates. Milwaukee and Madison opted to continue stay at home, keeping bars and dine-in restaurants closed. But images of packed bars with patrons without masks made national news in towns like West Allis and in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin — the latter a popular vacation destination for Chicagoans during the summer. The Tribune caught up with a few Wisconsin business owners who are touting their safety precautions. A Lake Geneva tourism official said she can’t wait to see Illinois license plates. Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order was to expire on May 26.
Meanwhile, Illinois has now processed more than 1 million unemployment claims since March 1, according to WBEZ. There have been also been 3,928 COVID-19 deaths with 87,937 confirmed cases in the state.
And in other news...
- Handshakes may be over, but the Chicago Handshake — a beer accompanied by a shot of malört — endures. Locals can now get a twist on the classic pairing via no-contact pickup through Pipeworks Brewing Co. “The Chicago PLEASE DO NOT HANDSHAKE Handshake” includes a four-pack of Pipeworks “Premium Pilsner” plus a discounted bottle of Jeppson’s Malört-branded hand sanitizer by CH Distillery. CH has quietly made the sanitizer available for purchase. The product was rolled out exclusively for health care providers.
- Phil Foss, chef and owner of Michelin-starred restaurant EL ideas, attempts to divine the changes diners will see in Chicago’s post-pandemic hospitality industry in an essay for the Takeout. He predicts fewer “butts in seats” due to a combination of fear and social distancing, as well as increased prices for diners and an ever-growing focus on takeout and meal kits.
- Indian street food mini-chain Naansense is the latest fast-casual business to strike a deal with “food accelerator” Venture Kitchen (Blackwood BBQ, Invicto), a company from the creators of Middle Eastern chain Naf Naf Grill, according to Restaurant Business Online. Venture Kitchen focuses on scaling fast-casual restaurants with just a few locations into regional and national chains. Hiran Patel and Viral Patel, who founded Naansense, currently operate locations in West Loop and suburban Naperville. They will remain in their current roles with the company as it expands.
- Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans from the federal government are a “death sentence” for restaurants, Boka Restaurant Group co-founder and co-CEO Kevin Boehm told Chicago Wednesday. Citing the numerous hoops operators need to jump through to get loan forgiveness, he describes the situation as a “disaster” for restaurant owners in desperate need of financial relief. The group recently reopened its Lincoln Park flagship and a handful of its other restaurants for takeout. Bellemore debuts today in West Loop.
- One hundred Englewood families were gifted free pizza from South Side staple Connie’s Pizza Wednesday through a donation by retired NFL star Donovan McNabb, Block Club Chicago reported. The event was designed to celebrate the Salvation Army’s new mentoring program at its Red Shield Center on 69th Street. McNabb starred as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and at Syracuse University. He’s a native of Dolton, a southern suburb.