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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

After Longman & Eagle Worker Tests Positive For Coronavirus, Servers Worry Restaurants And Bars Are Reopening Too Soon

Restaurants don't have the financial support to stay closed, but some servers don't feel safe. "In an ideal world, we would remain closed until a vaccine is introduced."

The Red Barrel restaurant near Midway Airport.
Chicago Mayor's Office
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LOGAN SQUARE — Longman & Eagle in Logan Square shut down over the weekend after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, leading some industry workers to question whether Chicago officials are rushing to reopen the city’s restaurants, bars and coffee shops at the expense of the workers who make the establishments run.

Longman & Eagle at 2657 N. Kedzie Ave. had been open for patio service for about 10 days when a worker tested positive for the virus.

On Sunday, owners announced in an Instagram post that the restaurant would be shutting down, effectively immediately, and “will remain closed until we can provide a healthy, safe working environment for our staff and then our guests.”

In an email, owner Pete Toalson said the sick employee is at home recovering and the ownership team is “in constant contact with our property managers and teams, and are working closely with them to ensure we’re maintaining an environment we’re all comfortable with.”

“We are approaching the issue of COVID candidly and honestly, both inside and outside of the company, to make sure our position on our commitment to operating safely is understood and upheld,” Toalson said.

Asked if this was evidence Chicago was reopening too soon, Toalson said, “In an ideal world, we would remain closed until a vaccine is introduced.”

“Unfortunately, we have people that are hurting who need income and insurance, so we’re all working together to try to provide income and jobs for those in need, in the safest way possible.”

Experts say the city could lose 1,500 or more independently-owned restaurants due to coronavirus, and while government programs have helped some, the money won’t last long enough to wait for a vaccine — and many smaller businesses haven’t received help at all. Restaurant owners can either open now with precautions in place or risk closing forever.

Chicago’s restaurants, bars and coffee shops were given the green light to reopen for patio service June 3 and will be able to reopen on Friday for limited dine-in service under the city’s reopening plan.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the return of dine-in service on Monday.

While Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Lightfoot were criticized by some for reopening the state too slowly, some service industry workers say city and state leaders aren’t doing enough to keep them safe. Pressure to reopen the economy, they say, is outweighing the health and wellbeing of employees.

“It really just says that the priorities are not the people. It’s money. And a lot of restaurants are reopening because they can’t afford not to,” said Kendal Kost, longtime server at Lula Cafe in Logan Square.

Under the city’s rules, restaurants and bars will be allowed to have indoor service, but only at 25 percent capacity with a limit of 50 people per room or floor.

Customers will have to be seated at tables 6 feet apart with 10 or fewer people per table. Employees will be required to wear face coverings at all time. Customers will be required to wear face coverings until they are seated.

People will only be allowed to be seated at bars and similar businesses for up to two hours. On-site alcohol sales at bars and restaurants must end at 11 p.m., and carryout or delivery alcohol sales must end at 9 p.m.

Evan Kaplan, bartender at Farraguts on Clark, 5240 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, said some of the rules seem “arbitrary.”

“The 25 percent capacity limit says to me that it probably isn’t safe to reopen for indoors but they’re just trying to minimize the impact of it,” Kaplan said. “If it’s safe to reopen, then it should be safe to have close to 50 percent capacity. 25 percent seems extremely limiting and extremely restrictive for it to be allegedly safe.”

Kaplan said while he feels safe going back to work because his bosses take sanitation seriously, he worries about some of his friends in the service industry who haven’t been given protective gear or safety guidelines.

“I feel like if the safety of workers was being taken seriously, there would be a very clear and very strongly enforced guidelines on PPE and protective steps being put in place for the staff,” Kaplan said. “But the fact that there isn’t, and you’re hearing stories from many different restaurants where there are insufficient safety measures, that just leads to a feeling that the workers are getting ready to be thrown out and chewed up and spat out again.”

One coffee shop worker, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions, said she’s had to complain to her bosses because some of her coworkers have been wearing masks around their chins. Some customers have been wearing masks improperly or not at all, she said.

“I know there’s a lot of pressure to open. I feel like that is being favored over the health of workers,” she said.

“I think it’s absolutely way too soon [to reopen]. I talked to a lot of my friends in the service industry and they don’t feel protected at work. Their co-workers aren’t wearing masks. … Nobody’s really going back and checking. … that management is doing their job and following through.”

In reopening Chicago’s bars and restaurants, city and state officials haven’t acknowledged that many service industry workers lack health benefits and protections that workers in other industries have, workers say.

“There’s no sick time at restaurants. You very rarely get a break during your shift. It seems to be a very clear disconnect between people who go to restaurants and maybe think they understand how they work versus people who actually do work in restaurants,” Kost said.

Kost also noted that businesses will suffer if they reopen too soon and then are forced to shut down for two weeks or longer because of a confirmed coronavirus case.

“Restaurants already run on such small margins,” Kost said. “What’s going to happen to all of the food and supplies? There are so many things you have to think about when one person tests positive.”

Austin Harvey, owner/employee at Beermiscuous at 2812 N. Lincoln Ave. in Lakeview, said he was planning on reopening his bar/cafe to dine-in service on Friday, but after hearing about the Longman & Eagle employee who tested positive, he has reconsidered.

Harvey is now taking a wait-and-see approach.

“[Officials] just saying, ‘Oh yeah, you can open now.’ That doesn’t do us as any good. If someone goes down and we have to shut everything down for a couple of weeks, that would be a nightmare,” he said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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