Restaurants deal with latest COVID restrictions


Richard Bailey, Editor

The suspension of indoor seating at restaurants has drawn metaphorical lines in the sand for many around the United States.

Many see it as government overreach and the mask mandate – or ANY news of COVID-19 – to be political. Some have gone as far as to suggest that the state and the federal government have concocted the COVID-19 scare as part of a “War on Small Business.”

“If the masks worked in April, why are we still wearing them today? It feels like this will never be over. But I’m over it,” Springfield resident Dorothy Watkins said.

Watkins was picking up a to-go order from Smokey Bones on Dirksen Drive in Springfield. The restaurant has gone to curbside pickup and their front doors remain locked. At least six people attempted to open the door in about five minutes.

While unhappy about the recent changes, Watkins says she’s stir crazy but at least her family is still able to order take out.

After recent mandates were enacted in the state of Illinois that were specific to bars and restaurants, many proprietors and patrons were becoming more and more vocal about their disdain. Fox Run has had a long, public battle with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, finding supporters to their cause along the way. They were one of five establishments that were presented with a lawsuit for failing to adhere to recent restrictions. Charlie Parker’s, Sweet Basil Café, D&J Café, and Fox Run Inn were all closed.

All except Fox Run have reopened. Fox Run’s owners have said that they are closed permanently.

Casa Real was also part of the suit but was later dropped.

The restaurant’s owner, Jose Lopez, has been in business for 11 years in Springfield, with five years at the current location on Wabash Avenue.

“It’s been steady with up and downs with constant restrictions to adapt to during COVID,” Lopez said.

Take-out orders have gone down with the second shutdown, he said. They are still offering curbside pickup, delivery through third-party providers, and dining in the heated outdoor tent.

Lopez said, “We are improving ordering and paying through our website for quicker and more convenient curbside. While trying to offer outdoor dining as long as we can with seasons temperatures allowing us to do so.”

Several businesses in town are giving further incentive for people to continue to place that order ‘To-Go’. The Capital City Takeout Challenge is a contest that requires participants to spend at least $15 at five different local eating establishments with one being minority-owned. The First Prize winner will receive $800 cash, and $200 in gift certificates to local establishments. The Second Prize winner will receive $150 cash, and $150 in gift certificates and Third Prize is rewarded with $50 cash and $50 in gift certificates. They will have a live-drawing on Dec. 19.

“I see it as one of the best possible lotteries I’ve ever taken part in,” Springfield resident Ryan Hester said. “I’ve never bought a scratch-off that I’ve been able to eat. It’s great to know that I can still get really good food and not have to take a risk of picking up the virus from someone else who may or may not be practicing the best mitigation procedures.”

Hester said there’s no way to know what precautions people have taken.

And as much as we take individual precautions, it is still possible to test positive for the virus.

Aliya Bailey is a recent college graduate fortunate enough to have a job that she can do from home. With local poetry groups unable to meet in person and very little contact with the general public, Bailey was statistically at low-risk for testing positive for the virus. The news that she had, in fact, become ill with the virus came as a shock. While experiencing generally mild symptoms, she quarantined away from her family and relied in part on food delivery services.

That ability to adapt to quickly changing situations and scenarios is a sentiment shared by Buddy Fore, owner of Jacksonville’s most popular BBQ restaurant. Taking the dizzying changes in stride, Fore has relied heavily on social media to stay connected with his customer base. With advertisements of daily specials complete with mouth-watering photos, to instructions on how to place an order online, Fore has adapted well to the challenges that many restaurant owners face during these hard times.

A recent post on My Buddy’s Café’s page read: “If there’s anything I learned as a chef, it’s that we are always learning to adapt – rolling with the punches. You’ve gotta just keep going. Never lose sight of why you started in the first place.”

With many establishments facing closure, the time to buy local may literally become a memory. To help out, you can order take-out from one of many great, local establishments – or purchase gift cards for stocking stuffers!