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Local restaurant owners say 'we're doing everything we can' to curb COVID-19

Owners say restaurants have been singled out with threat of further restrictions

The prospect of a fresh batch of COVID-19 restrictions came as unwelcome news Thursday to local restaurateurs, though some stated that infection control trumps all other concerns.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Thursday in Ottawa if the health region that includes La Salle County has four more days of people getting sicker and needing a hospital bed, it would mean "bars will close again, a possible reduction of service at restaurants and smaller capacity limits at other activities,” Pritzker said in his opening remarks.

The North-Central region (Bureau, Fulton, Grundy, Henderson, Henry, Kendall, Knox, La Salle, Livingston, Marshall, McDonough, McLean, Mercer, Peoria, Putnam, Rock Island, Stark, Tazewell, Warren and Woodford counties) has seen seven days of positivity increases – meeting one criteria for stricter measures – and three days of hospital admission increases.

Arnie Sanchez is co-owner of Los Jarritos in La Salle. He said he doesn’t relish the reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions but public safety comes first, period.

“We have to put a stop to the virus so we don’t lose more people,” Sanchez said.

But Sanchez acknowledged new restrictions could mark the end for some of his peers in the dining industry, many of whom are on the brink or, like him, only inching back to normal.

“We’re holding our own, but it’s coming back slowly,” Sanchez said. “We’re up, obviously, from zero, but we’re not even at half of what we used to do.”

Ron McFarlain owns the Cajun Connection in Utica. McFarlain said he’ll abide by any restrictions Pritzker imposes and he will continue to survive – “We’ve been really blessed” – but he also believes restaurants and taverns are being singled out and subjected to restrictions not being imposed on other businesses.

“Most bars and restaurants are in compliance, so I don’t know why he (Pritzker) is picking on them,” McFarlain said. “People could go to the supermarket or the big box stores and get the virus. But are they shutting them down? No.”

Mickey Venegas owns Mickey’s Massive Burritos in La Salle. He doesn’t relish a fresh batch of restrictions, either, but he said the uptick in cases already has taken a toll on the business community as a whole. COVID-19 cases have soared in La Salle County over the past few weeks and fearful residents have responded to the resurgence by hunkering down as they did when the virus was peaking in springtime.

“I talk to business people how things are going and they say it’s slow, slow, slow,” Venegas said. “People are afraid again and they’re staying home.”

Ryan Anderes is the owner the Uptown Grill in La Salle. He has a large building with outdoor dining space and thus could meet new restrictions while keeping people employed – most restrictions, that is.

“The one thing that would be concerning is if we had to go back to curbside pickup only,” he said. “That would be an issue.”

Hank's Restaurant owner Marie Koepke said Hank's isn't the type of place where people aren't being safe and it feels like restaurants are being held accountable for taverns not social distancing.

"We're all pretty devastated because we know what this'll do to our business," said Hank's owner Marie Koepke. "It's not that we aren't safe, or don't want to be safe. We've been safe and we're doing everything we can. It seems like, well, not unfair, but why is it targeting restaurants?"

Koepke said there needs to be a middle ground.

"We've been in business for almost 80 years and we want to stay another 80, so we'll do what we have to and do what we can to provide a safe environment," Koepke said. "We'll still provide carry outs and outdoor seating, and do what we can to continue doing this for a very long time."

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