Ownership at Big Star in Wicker Park, the taco bar with a popular patio, closed Sunday night after a worker was diagnosed with COVID-19. The patio was open Sunday morning and management announced the closure via Instagram on Sunday night, writing ”we will be closed for a few days as the restaurant undergoes a deep clean and complete sanitization.”
Workers will be tested this week and they’ve been told to quarantine until Wednesday, says One Off Hospitality Group co-founder Paul Kahan. Ownership found out about the positive test at 5:50 p.m. Sunday, and quickly closed. Leadership met to discuss the restaurant’s response at 7:15 p.m, Kahan says. He’s hopeful that no one else will test positive and the restaurant will reopen Friday. Big Star’s pickup window is also closed.
Before Sunday, Big Star’s patio — normally a bustling place during the summer with long lines — had been open with tables eight feet away from each other. Customers had their temperatures taken. They weren’t allowed to dine inside; they’re only allowed on premises to use bathrooms. Management kept customers out of the restaurant’s tiny quarters to try to make workers safer, says Kahan.
“We’re trying to stay alive, our entire industry, our entire company,” says Kahan. He adds that the infected employee doesn’t have work at other One Off restaurants. pioneering cocktail bar The Violet Hour is across the street. Dove’s Luncheonette neighbors Big Star.
Announcements like Big Star’s — which aren’t required by law — are becoming common place for restaurants around Chicago during the pandemic. Kahan says the company shared the news as it felt a responsibility in “being conscious to our employees and the public.” Still, some workers remain uneasy, worried about the safety of dine-in service. They’ve expressed their displeasure online.
Not all restaurants have offered the same transparency with customers, with reports of mysterious temporary closures floating around town throughout the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance to restaurants and bars. The Illinois Restaurant Association offers tips on what owners should do after a positive novel coronavirus test. The suggestions include a form letter to post to inform staff and customer. Again, a restaurant isn’t obliged by law to make an announcement. That’s caused much frustration throughout the industry.
It’s not as simple as making a single social media post, either. Half Sour, the South Loop deli, last week announced it was closing after an employee, (who just worked a sole Saturday shift) tested positive. Two days ago, ownership took to Instagram again to post that the test was a false positive: “Apologies for any unrest caused to any patrons that dined with us Saturday, July 25th.” Last month, Chicago’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Alinea, closed for weekend service at its rooftop after a worker tested positive.
Earlier during the pandemic, Kahan says a worker at Publican Quality Meats on Fulton Market tested positive. One Off applied the same protocols and deep cleaned the restaurant which is now open for carryout and patio service. It’s a tough environment to navigate, but Kahan says he feels the pressure of keeping his company afloat. The group has already closed two restaurants, Blackbird and Cafe Cancale, during the pandemic.