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La Salle County restaurants prep for outdoor dining

Setting up tables away from sidewalks figures to be biggest challenge

There was excitement in Scott Struchen's voice Wednesday night.

After hearing the news Gov. JB Pritzker is going to allow restaurants with outdoor dining to open as early as May 29, the chief commercial officer of Tangled Roots Brewery and The Lone Buffalo had been game planning with the mayor to bring dining back to Ottawa.

While the downtown brewery and restaurant already has outdoor dining, it is along the city's sidewalks – which Pritzker said are off limits. The same setup applies for Uptown Grill in La Salle, and many other downtown establishments.

Still, Struchen remains optimistic the restaurant, and others, will be able to open up for outdoor dining, even if it involves an outside-the-box idea.

"It's going to be a very interesting next nine days," Struchen said. "We're going to be prepared to be open. We're ready to rock and roll."

Struchen said the restaurant is willing to put up tents for dining, and that may be in the street, the alley, or the nearby park. He said Tangled Roots is working along with BASH, JJs and Court Street Pub in talking to Mayor Dan Aussem to figure out a way for restaurants to provide outdoor eating.

"Most restaurants in Ottawa, except for a few, have their outdoor dining along the sidewalk," he said.

Ryan Anderes, co-owner of Uptown Grill in La Salle, said the news still is fresh and he would have to get more details on the guidelines before saying what the restaurant will do, but he said it's something more to work with – and he was encouraged customers already were calling Wednesday night to get reservations.

The downtown La Salle destination, like many others, has been serving customers through carryouts, curbside pickup and delivery. He said the restaurant gets anywhere from 50 to 200 carryout and delivery customers now, depending on the day, but even on the busy nights, that's roughly 70% to 75% of regular business before coronavirus measures.

He also talked about logistics. Servers would need to wear masks and gloves, tables would need to be set apart, etc.

"There's a lot of questions unanswered at this point," he said.

Struchen said as Tangled Roots proceeds, it will adhere strictly to health guidelines from the state and CDC. He said servers will wear masks and gloves, and customers will have to practice social distancing.

With all state parks scheduled to reopen May 29, which the governor also announced Wednesday, Struchen anticipates tourism to amp up.

"We'll have to be extremely careful, because we're going to have a mass of people really fast," Struchen said.

For smaller cafes, such as More on Main in Streator, which also has seating along a downtown sidewalk, lifting restrictions was a "baby step" in the right direction.

“We only have room for a few tables outside when you take in social distancing requirements, and the weather hasn’t been great lately,” said Jen McMullen, of More on Main. “I’ll have to talk to the city and see what their thoughts are, because right now I only have seating in front of my business. We might have to see if we can spill over in front of other people’s businesses.”

Additionally, McMullen had questions about mask requirements, because people can’t eat with a mask on, but the requirements to wear one weren’t lifted.

While restaurant owners will be communicating with city and county officials on particulars of setting up outdoor dining, there are some restaurants that are suited well for offering outdoor seating, particularly those with a patio.

One of those places, Shakers in Ottawa, posted a video to its Facebook page encouraging customers to call for reservations – "Let's do this, let's see each other again."

Smitty's Bar and Grill in Leonore was succinct with a post to its Facebook page, sharing a photo of its outdoor patio and the message: "Phase 3. Stay Tuned."

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