May 11, 2021

GUEST COLUMN: Region 1 mitigations response: COVID-19 mitigations 'devastating' on our business

My family has owned and operated Lincoln Inn Restaurant and Faranda’s Banquet Center in DeKalb for 27 years. The Lincoln Inn is a fairly well-known downtown staple – a breakfast and lunch spot that seats 134 people where the community comes together for good food, service and fellowship in a relaxed setting. Faranda’s is an event center that was built for larger banquets, receptions and meetings that caters to groups of up to 400 people.

Since March 16, when indoor dining was first prohibited, we have moved our operations from our 4,000-square-foot Lincoln Highway location to our 14,000-square-foot banquet center at 302 Grove St. The larger location gave us ample room for our staff to provide curbside pickup to our customers in a safe, efficient manner. When outside dining was permitted, we were able to use our parking lot at 302 Grove St. to provide patio dining, and when inside dining was permitted in July, we opted to use the space to provide customers with safe, spread-out dining inside our banquet center.

The effects of the mitigations are devastating for restaurants and event centers that specialize in providing enjoyable dining experiences in their dining rooms. The closing of dining rooms has the immediate effect of reducing customer counts and revenue. Much of the inventory restaurants carry on-hand is perishable and will be lost. Hourly staff members will have their hours and pay reduced. Many restaurants that have been hanging on will not be able to overcome this latest obstacle.

A lingering effect of the mitigations is the return of fear for our customers. We have worked diligently on reopening plans so our customers will feel and be safe when they come back to our dining rooms. The mitigations have caused customers to question and, for some, to be afraid to come into our dining rooms and to cancel upcoming holiday parties.

The unfortunate thing is that the data available for DeKalb County did not, until recently, support the need for the latest round of mitigations and fear. At the time the mitigations were announced, the county consistently had a positivity rolling average below the 8% target level. Numbers in Winnebago County were pulling the entire region above the 8% target. A local health department would never close a restaurant in DeKalb for a food-borne illness that occurred in Rockford – but, in effect, that is what the state is mandating in this scenario.

At Lincoln Inn and Faranda’s, our staff members have been interacting with the public through the entire pandemic. In the past seven months, none of our staff members have contracted the virus. We have not been contacted by any representatives from any county health department warning of any exposure to people who had tested positive for the virus. If restaurants in DeKalb County are a source of the virus spreading, why haven’t we been notified by any contact tracers?

The goal of the Restore Illinois plan was to flatten the curve so our hospitals do not become overwhelmed. As of Monday, the IDPH website shows 40% of medical surgical beds and 51% of ICU beds are available in our region. We have done everything the state has required to slow the spread of the virus, and in many areas,­­ we have gone above and beyond. The data in DeKalb County reflects that and we should be permitted to open our dining rooms and employ our people.

• Bill McMahon's family has owned and operated Lincoln Inn Restaurant and Faranda's Banquet Center in downtown DeKalb for 27 years. He's also part of a group of 11 local restaurant owners who filed a lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritkzer and IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike asking that COVID-19 mitigations be based on local, not regional, data.