Stay open or close? Dixon restaurant owners take different approaches to new mitigations

'We asked to see in writing why we can’t be open and no one can provide that to us'

To serve or not to serve, that is the question.

Restaurants and bars in the area are facing that choice after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker re-implemented mitigation rules that began Saturday due to rising COVID-19 infection rates. Included in the rules is to have no indoor seating, which puts some businesses in a tough spot.

Two Dixon restaurants, Mama Cimino’s and Flynnie’s Diner, approached the situation very differently on Saturday.

Mama Cimino’s owner Jim Gallentine has chosen to comply with the mitigation rules. A recently completed dining area that tripled his seating capacity will sit vacant for now.

“I’m just following the rules,” Gallentine said. “The Lee County Health Department sent me an email with what they wanted me to do, so that’s what I’m doing. I understand if other places are staying open. That’s their business. This is not my personal feelings about any of this. It’s business, and we’re doing what we’re told to do with our business.”

Gallentine will rely on carryout, delivery and curbside pickup to keep his business afloat, something it did for the first shutdown from March through July.

“Our customers in Dixon have been very supportive,” Gallentine said. “They’re very loyal. The community is just very supportive, and I have no reason to think that won’t continue.”

While Gallentine will go along with the new rules, he isn’t necessarily happy about it. He thinks the restaurant and bar industry is being unfairly targeted in this situation.

“It’s kind of unfair to the restaurants because most restaurants have been very careful in complying with all of the rules,” Gallentine said. “I’m not reading where there’s huge outbreaks in any of the restaurants around the area. It seems like there’s a lot of parties and a lot of bigger events happening. We keep hearing not to do that, but when they do do it, nobody’s held accountable. It’s almost like they’ve lost control.”

Flynnie’s Diner is one area restaurant that will continue business as usual. There was a brisk Saturday morning breakfast crowd, with only the tables set aside for social distancing purposes remaining empty. There is no outdoor seating option at Flynnie’s, with two small tables and chairs near the entrance more for visiting than dining.

“We choose to stay open today because we have employees that need paychecks,” manager Derrick Flynn said. “It’s their right to come here and earn a living, and it’s a right for people to come in here and have a hot meal.”

Flynn noted the restaurant has been vigilant about following COVID-19 guidelines, with masks required by employees and customers, wiping down tables, chairs and menus after use, and constant hand washing. Flynnie’s was represented at a seminar Thursday in Rockford in which restaurant and bar owners were encouraged to remain open with business as usual.

He also noted a lawyer has been contacted, if needed.

“We asked to see in writing why we can’t be open and no one can provide that to us,” Flynn said.

Remaining open and having more mornings like Flynnie’s enjoyed on Saturday will be crucial to the business’s survival, according to Flynn.

“We have not recovered from the last shutdown,” Flynn said. “We had to throw so much food out, and we lost so many employees. Some of them we can’t get back because of the checks they were getting from the stimulus package. They decided to stay home instead of coming back to work. Yes, we’re still recovering from the first shutdown.”

Culver’s in Dixon took the preemptive measure of shutting down its dining area on Friday afternoon, relying strictly on its drive-thru for business.