WICKER PARK — The Delta in Wicker Park is unlikely to reopen its patio this winter after allegedly letting 28 maskless people congregate after hours — but the restaurant’s owner said changing rules have made a hard situation even harder.
The restaurant, which had just reopened after a staff outbreak, had to close for one day as part of the sanctions after a late-night event Nov. 13. Owner Eldridge Williams said he does not plan on reopening the patio at any point this winter; instead, the restaurant will focus on carryout and delivery.
“The staff is very discouraged, for sure,” Williams said. “We have a very small staff, close-knit … . It’s tough to tell these individuals that, ‘Hey, I don’t have any work for your right now.'”
The city’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection issued a one-day closure order to The Delta, 1745 W. North Ave., shortly after midnight Nov. 14.
City inspectors found 28 people on the restaurant’s back patio who were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, Isaac Reichman, a spokesman for the city’s business department, said in an email. City and state rules require bars and restaurants to stop service at 11 p.m. and say patrons must wear masks and social distance.
The Delta was issued citations for operating “significantly later” than the required 11 p.m. closure, for patrons failing to wear face coverings while standing and patrons failing to maintain social distancing, Reichman said.
The group came to The Delta for a private event, Williams said, and they were maskless because they were outdoors drinking and eating. The patio can accommodate 30 customers with social distancing.
Williams said he felt the city’s rules for outdoor patio use for small groups were “vague.” After spending $16,000-$17,000 “winterizing” his back patio, he felt discouraged.
“It’s a fight we can’t win,” Williams said. “We’re just sitting here watching our livelihood being demolished. And we’re not in control of the wrecking ball.”
While outdoor dining and drinking is allowed, all operations must end at 11 p.m. and COVID-19 regulations must be followed by patrons, Reichman said.
“Outdoor dining regulations, which have not changed significantly since outdoor dining was first allowed in June, include the requirements that patrons must be seated whenever they are eating or drinking, face coverings must be worn whenever patrons are out of their seats, no more than six people per table and 6 feet between tables,” he said.
The Delta’s private party marked the first time the restaurant was open after temporarily closing due to a staff outbreak.
Four staffers had tested positive for COVID-19, with one person having mild symptoms and the rest being asymptomatic, Williams said. The Delta closed the restaurant and announced the news on social media Nov. 10. Staff tested negative before the Nov. 13 event, Williams said.
Williams thanked neighbors for their support thus far.
When “we reopened in August it was overwhelming, the amount of support and love we received from patrons. And regulars in the community,” he said. “That energy is what’s going to help small businesses like mine survive. … We’re gonna ride this thing til the brakes fall off.”
The Delta is one one of only a handful of Black-owned businesses in Wicker Park. Others nearby include Helendora Samuels Picture Framing, The Gallery Cafe and Ina Mae Tavern.
A Memphis native, Williams opened The Delta in 2017 after spending 15 years working in Chicago’s service industry. The food and interior design showcase the Mississippi Delta region, he said.
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