LAKEVIEW — Ella Elli, a chic European-Mediterranean restaurant near the Southport Corridor, has reopened for the first time in almost four months.
The restaurant specializes in higher-end small plates meant to be served directly from kitchen to table, said Doug Dunlay, owner of Ella Elli’s Chicago-based parent company, 4 Star Restaurant Group. That meant that when the state prohibited indoor service starting Nov. 20, the restaurant was left with no choice but to close, Dunlay said.
“It’s a small restaurant and the food doesn’t really travel well,” Dunlay said. “We also don’t have a large enough outdoor area to set up tents or things like that, so we had to make the decision to close.”
The restaurant, 1349 W. Cornelia Ave., finally reopened Friday, a few weeks after Chicago began lifting indoor dining restrictions as coronavirus’s spread slows. The city expanded capacity limits even more this week, though restaurants still must keep tables 6 feet apart and follow other safety rules.
“With the way [COVID] numbers have gone and with vaccinations ramping up, we hoped it was going to be soon, but we also wanted to take advantage of Valentine’s Day,” Dunlay said.
Ella Elli is beloved in Lakeview for offering a restaurant experience more geared toward adults without requiring diners to travel Downtown. Dunlay said it often attracts couples, so it’s a great date-night spot.
For Valentine’s Day, Ella Elli offered a four-course, fixed-price menu that allowed the restaurant to control its capacity by selling tickets, he said.
The restaurant serves about 80 people at maximum capacity but now can serve up to 32 diners, or 40 percent capacity, per the city’s indoor dining rules.
Other COVID-related precautions include placing hand sanitizer at every table, installing plexiglass partitions between booths and other tables and regularly sanitizing surfaces within the restaurant, Dunlay said.
The pandemic has been “devastating” to 4 Star’s restaurants, which are all down about 40 to 70 percent of their revenue from the year before, Dunlay said. The business also had to permanently close two of its restaurants: The Windsor in Streeterville and D.O.C. Wine Bar in suburban Lombard.
“One of the restaurants still had a ton of bank debt, so that carries on with us,” Dunlay said. “We took over $1 million that we still have to pay by spreading it out among our other restaurants.”
The dining limits being raised to 40 percent capacity should help the restaurant business catch up more on lost revenue.
“Just being open at limited capacity this last weekend felt great,” Dunlay said. “Our regulars and guests that showed up were really excited to be back in our space again, and our staff was thrilled too.”
Ella Elli is open for dinner Wednesday-Sunday, Dunlay said. Beginning April 1, the restaurant will offer brunch again and move back to being open daily. Reservations are strongly recommended to visit.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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