LAKEVIEW — Despite state and city mandates against dining indoors, a popular Lakeview restaurant owned by a veteran Chicago alderman was letting people dine indoors as recently as Sunday.
Ann Sather restaurant, located at 909 W. Belmont Ave. and owned by 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, was seating people through Sunday, despite a mandate that banned indoor dining starting Oct. 30 from Gov. JB Pritzker.
The story was first reported by blog Second City Cop, which showed photos of someone dining inside the restaurant Thursday. Other customers were seen dining indoors, too.
A reporter visiting the restaurant Monday was told by an employee the restaurant stopped seating diners indoors Sunday.
“That ended yesterday. We were seating some people, but somebody ratted us out,” the employee said.
Tunney issued a statement Monday, characterizing his decision to allow patrons inside despite the mandate as a mistake.
“On a sporadic basis, we have allowed a very limited number of our regular diners to eat inside the restaurant while observing social distancing and mask-wearing rules. This was [an] error in judgement and won’t happen again,” the statement read.
In a statement, Isaac Reichman, Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokesman, said the matter was “under investigation.” The agency had not received any complaints about Ann Sather prior to Monday, city officials said.
Ann Sather was one of the thousands of Chicago businesses the city’s outreach workers contacted to make sure the staff was aware of coronavirus rules, city officials said.
“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, [the business department] has worked hard to hold all businesses accountable to the COVID-19 regulations designed to keep our community safe. While our focus has always been on education, we have not hesitated to take appropriate enforcement action when necessary,” the statement read. “This matter is under investigation and the department will handle the investigation in the same manner as we have handled thousands of investigations throughout the pandemic.”
In a statement, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said any business found in violation of the city’s coronavirus guidelines will be held accountable, “no exceptions.”
“The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection continues to ensure regulations are enforced equally across the city, and it will take appropriate action in this instance as it has done with the thousands of investigations into COVID-19 compliance for businesses this year,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
Indoor dining has been banned for more than a month in Chicago due to the surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the city. Ilinois just had its deadliest week yet of the pandemic, with nearly 1,000 people dead.
Bars and restaurants have proven significant places of spread in Illinois, experts have said. Eating indoors at a restaurant is considered by experts to be among the riskiest actions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tunney has owned the restaurant since 1981 and has been an alderman since 2003.
Asked about the issue at a news conference Monday, Gov. JB Pritzker said Tunney “absolutely is responsible for an error in judgment.”
“I also will say that elected officials should be setting an example, not creating the example that people may follow that will spread coronavirus,” Pritzker said. “We have mitigations in place for a reason. We have asked everybody to follow them and, frankly, most restaurants and bars have followed them. They’re doing the right thing. I think that the alderman has said, properly, that it was an error in judgment and I think it was a tremendous one.”
Restaurants and bars that are subverting the state’s safety measures are providing opportunities for people to get sick with COVID-19, Pritzker said.
“I feel terribly for the law-abiding bar and restaurant owners that there are others out there trying to take advantage of the public and get them sick,” Pritzker said. “I suppose there will be ultimate judgment on those people; but in the interim, the fact is anybody that took any Business Interruption Grants that is not following the law will have those taken away from them. And I think all of us will remember who was protecting us … when we get past this pandemic. And I think that the people who were not protecting us will be held accountable by the patrons in their area.”
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