City of Chicago officials have fined restaurants and bars about $450,000 since March 2020 for allegedly failing for enforce mask wearing, breaking COVID-19 capacity limits, and allowing indoor dining while on-premise dining remained suspended.
The Tribune tallied the numbers and found a variety of establishments all across the city were cited between $200 and $12,000 for a multitude of infractions. These rules, which have changed over time, were designed to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Public records show that the city issued more than 100 citations in $500 increments, and more than 40 in $2,000 increments. A handful of adjudicated cases included fines up to $5,000. In more than 20 cases, businesses that didn’t respond to the disciplinary action were issued default judgements of at least $10,000.
It’s no secret that Chicago restaurants have faced enormous economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The severity of financial losses over the past year has some operators saying they were driven to rule-breaking out of desperation. Many don’t have the funds to pay the city’s fines and remain viable, but it remains unclear whether the city will seek out these fines and thus force establishments to close.
Non-responsive businesses include one of Chicago’s top barbecue spots, Uncle J’s BBQ in Bronzeville. The restaurant was cited in the fall for unmasked employees, but when ownership didn’t respond to the city, officials issued a $10,500 fine.
Ald. (44th) Tom Tunney, owner of Swedish restaurant Ann Sather, paid $2,000 in fines after he was caught in late December allowing patrons to eat indoors, despite the state’s ban on indoor dining at the time. Fines have also been issued to a number of unauthorized parties, including a 300-person event in early December at the Bedford, a former restaurant on the Northwest corner of Ashland and Division.
The looming wrath of city inspectors has made a tangible impact on some operators: usually raucous occasions like St. Patrick’s Day were muted this year as officials warned it would crack down on those who didn’t play by the rules.
And in other news...
— Police have arrested and charged a 35-year-old suspect in connection with February’s attack on Ald. (42nd) Brendan Reilly outside Boss Bar in River North. Reilly, whose ward covers River North where he’s an outspoken ally of its restaurants and bars, said he was waiting for a friend outside the bar around 10:30 p.m. February 18 when two men began yelling at him. They knocked him down then kicked and punched him. The injuries did not require medical attention. A suspect was arrested Thursday and charged with battery. He has a Friday court date, according to Block Club Chicago. A second suspect hasn’t been identified. Reilly has used the incident as a chance to ask for increased police presence in the neighborhood.
— The Black Bread Co., a Chicago-based brand touted as the first Black-owned company of its kind, received a $20,000 check during an interview with Ellen Degeneres that aired on Thursday, according to the Tribune. Ownership has also signed a distribution deal with Mariano’s. The donation comes as ratings for Degeneres’ show go into a tailspin.
— Tilly, Olivia, and Dolores, a trio of magellanic penguins, last week paid a visit to longtime Chicago seafood destination Shaw’s Crab House. The adorable stunt was meant to highlight both Chicago Restaurant Week and the Shedd Aquarium’s Let’s Shedd Plastic restaurant conservation initiative, according to a rep. Shaw’s is among more than 50 restaurants participating in the program, which is designed to help restaurants reduce their use of plastics. The Shedd’s penguins waddled to viral fame last year when Americans in lockdown became obsessed with videos of rockhopper penguins traversing the empty halls of the aquarium. In 2018, Shaw’s owners at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises banned plastic straws at all 120 of its locations.