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Local News

'It's steps in the right direction' Area restaurants thrilled to welcome returning patrons

Paul Schade Jr, (from left) Kim Schade, Jana Schade and Paul Schade eat lunch at Palmer Place in La Grange on May 29. The restaurant, which was closed to diners since March because of the state's stay-at-home mandate, reopened to outdoor seating as part of Illinois' phase three of reopening.
Paul Schade Jr, (from left) Kim Schade, Jana Schade and Paul Schade eat lunch at Palmer Place in La Grange on May 29. The restaurant, which was closed to diners since March because of the state's stay-at-home mandate, reopened to outdoor seating as part of Illinois' phase three of reopening.

Kristin Smith and Shannan O'Brien made sure they got a seat on the first day their favorite restaurant reopened.

Next door neighbors in Downers Grove and working moms, the two ladies were first in line Friday afternoon at Pierce Tavern on Main Street in Downers Grove.

Margaritas and lunch on a sun-splashed afternoon was a welcome relief for Smith and O'Brien, whose families have been "self-quarantining" together since March.

"So good. Nothing ever felt better," Smith said. "We both have two kids, we're both home with them all day long, both been working while we're at home taking care of our kids. This is a very welcome, needed distraction."

Smith and O'Brien were two of many folks enjoying lunch out, a hair cut or a little shopping in downtown Downers Grove on the first day of Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.

A block away, Anderson's Bookshop reopened its doors for the first time. Past the railroad tracks, clusters of children congregated outside Every Day's a Sundae ice cream shop. A cheery sign in the window at Starbuck's said "Welcome back, we missed you." A group of men sat outside Main Street Barber Shop waiting their turn for a long-needed trim.

Pierce Tavern was one of the restaurants permitted to offer outdoor dining under the less restrictive Phase 3.

The establishment normally opens for business at 11 a.m., but waited until noon Friday. Manager Tyler Volz said a line had formed out the door by 10:50 a.m.

"We've been fielding phone calls, close to 100 a day," Volz said. "Honestly, so far, so good, it's going super smooth. It's nice to see the community out, not just supporting us but supporting every restaurant in the area."

Business was brisk, and Volz expected it would pick up as the day progressed.

"It's close to a typical Friday," Volz said. "It's always hard to determine with the weather and after a holiday weekend. During the summer, the patio, weather permitting, never sees a downturn. Every table is full into last call. This is as close to a normal Friday as we've had in some time."

Keith and Diane Pekarek of Westmont enjoyed their first time out at their go-to place for Friday lunch in two months. They've either eaten at home or ordered curbside pickup since March.

"It's amazing. To have that freedom to get out, to go somewhere, I feel we were to the point that we're over it already," Diane Pekarek said. "We would like to see things opening up, while taking the appropriate measures, wearing a mask that you have."

Volz said that Pierce Tavern was indeed following every CDC guideline for the reopen. The five servers, two support staff and bartender working the Friday lunch shift each wore a mask, and guests entering the building to use the washroom were asked to wear a mask.

The restaurant did bathroom checks every 15 minutes to make sure they were clean and sanitized, every table was double sanitized. and every 15 minutes if no customer was sitting there, tables were re-sanitized to prep for the next person.

O'Brien and Smith felt plenty safe, pointing to the hand sanitizer on their table.

"A guy sat down at this table that wasn't supposed to be here, and as soon as he stood up they wiped it down. They're taking big-time precautions," O'Brien said. "We feel very comfortable. We got here early to be safe, and make sure we actually got a seat."

The scene was similar in La Grange, where residents strolled along La Grange Road or stopped at their favorite eateries or cafes to enjoy a beverage or meal.

Palmer Place owner Stephen Palmer took a seat near the bar as the first customers of day gathered on the outdoor patio and expressed how delighted he was to reopen his doors.

“We’re already off to a very nice start,” Palmer said. “I think it’s just going to continue throughout the day--a beautiful 70-degree day.”

Patrons were required to wear masks when walking throughout the restaurant, but could remove them when seated at a table, Palmer said.

“If you get up from the table, you have to put your mask back on,” he said.

Tables were situated at least six feet apart and were limited to parties of six.

“You’re only allowed to sit a table. You can’t go visit a table and stand there,” Palmer said.

Customers were given a quick summary of the rules by a hostess stationed near the entrance.

“We’ll do what we have to do to be complaint and open,” Palmer said.

Preparing to reopen presented some challenges, especially because restaurant owners had so little notice, he said.

“Beer distributors don’t have beer,” said Palmer, who is busy hiring staff because some employees have decided not to return.

But these obstacles would not stand in the way of a long-awaited reopen.

"We are thrilled. If we don’t get the outdoor business because of the way our business is set up, we can’t survive the winter,” Palmer said.

Palmer thanked the community and his patrons for the support during the shutdown.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “The outpouring of support, the patience, the absolute love, the gratuities to employees.”

Long-time patron Paul Schade sought out Palmer to say hello shortly after arriving at the eatery with his family to celebrate his son’s graduation from Lyons Township High School.

The luncheon celebration came shortly after Schade’s son, Paul Jr., participated in diploma day at the high school.

“We were here the last day it was open, and here we are the first day,” Schade said. “It’s unbelievable, and this is our favorite place.”

Schade, who didn’t leave his house more than a handful of times during stay-at-home order, said going out to lunch didn’t worry him.

“Is there a concern? Absolutely. (I’m) hoping that people do what they’re supposed to do. I think we’re OK,” he said.

Blueberry Hill Breakfast Cafe owner Chis Manolas said was as excited “as a kid in a candy store” to reopen his restaurant and greet some of his regular customers.

“It’s like a grand opening,” Manolas said. “It was tough but we made it. Customers supported us with curbside service and carry out.”

Manolas was happy to greet patrons, who enjoyed a sunny day and a meal white sitting outside the cafe.

“This is something new for them,” he said. “They’re happy to see us, happy to sit outside. It’s little steps, but it’s steps in the right direction.”

Suburban Life news editor Bob Rakow contributed to this report.

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