June 24, 2021

Update: Faranda's owner says health officials told him he can continue indoor dining at banquet center until otherwise notified

Photo of DeKalb mayor dining indoors at Faranda's Tuesday sparks debate on regulations

DeKALB – The owner of Faranda's Banquet Center said health officials told him Tuesday afternoon he can continue indoor dining until they can clarify whether its allowed by the state following a social media post which showed the DeKalb mayor dining inside for breakfast Tuesday morning.

Bill McMahon, owner of the banquet hall, said he spoke with DeKalb County Health Department officials shortly before 3:35 p.m. who called him to address an allegation that he was being non-compliant by allowing indoor dining at the event center. He said from his understanding, he wasn't ordered to cease indoor dining, but told the health department will provide further clarification on banquet center rules which could impact indoor dining service.

"I'll be open tomorrow," McMahon said Tuesday evening.

The update comes after a social media post about DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith dining indoors at a restaurant started to circulate on Tuesday, with one post criticizing the mayor for dining indoors. The post also included a photo of the breakfast group of five dining inside. The restaurant or venue was not named in the social media post, though Smith confirmed Tuesday it was Faranda's.

In an interview confirming his breakfast spot Tuesday, Smith said he and Faranda's didn't do anything wrong. He said Tuesday's breakfast was part of a regular weekly gathering among friends, and the group usually dines outside given the circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The breakfast club moved indoors Tuesday morning at Faranda's Banquet Center due to the colder outdoor temperatures, Smith said. Plus, dining inside at Faranda's was not going against mitigations set for the geographical health area designated as Region 1, which includes DeKalb County, he said.

"He’s entitled to do it as a banquet center," Smith said.

Health officials, however, said state guidelines aren't clear as to whether indoor dining is allowed at a banquet center, and said they told McMahon to await further clarification from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Outdoor dining and take-out remains available at the building, which also services The Lincoln Inn, confirmed health officials Tuesday.

"The Health Department did have a conversation with Faranda’s today regarding indoor dining," Greg Maurice, director of health protection for the county health department, said Tuesday in an email. "The Health Department will be requesting additional clarification from the State of [Illinois] today, since Faranda’s is unique with both Faranda’s and Lincoln Inn now located in one building. Once we have clarification, we will update Faranda’s."

Maurice said this is the first time throughout the entire pandemic that the health department has had contact with Faranda's or Lincoln Inn, and that health officials received a complaint about the indoor dining around noon Tuesday, then followed that up with a phone call to Faranda's around 3 p.m.

"We are following our steps of enforcement and in this particular case, we are getting clarification from the State before we consider them to be out of compliance," Maurice said,

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health's mitigations enforced on Region 1, which includes DeKalb and Winnebago Counties and the Sauk Valley area, indoor dining is prohibited at bars and restaurants through Nov. 14. The mitigations also limit events and gatherings to 25% capacity or groups of 25 or fewer, or 25% of room capacity in event spaces indoors.

The building, 302 Grove Street, is now home to both Faranda's Banquet Center and The Lincoln Inn. McMahon and his staff have set up a large tent with tables and heaters to accommodate outdoor dining put in place at the beginning of this month.

McMahon, who also owned Lincoln Inn in DeKalb but relocated the restaurant due to the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed Smith dined inside his banquet hall earlier Tuesday. He said it's his understanding Faranda's is compliant with health guidelines and he requires reservations from indoor diners to meet those capacity requirements within the banquet hall.

McMahon also said he required a phone number from each party that makes a reservation for indoor dining at Faranda's for potential contract tracing purposes. Smith confirmed reservations were required for the breakfast group to dine at Faranda's.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, around 12:49 p.m., McMahon told the Daily Chronicle he'd had zero contact with the DeKalb County Health Department related to contact tracing involving customers or staff members or any complaints against his restaurant.

Nearly three hours later, he told the Daily Chronicle health department officials called him before 3:37 p.m. to follow-up on a complaint.

Smith said during the meal, he was asked by Faranda's waitstaff to sign one of his business cards for the server's child, since it was the child's birthday.

“So I was pleased to do that, as I would with any resident who would ask me to sign something for a child," Smith said. "So I was delighted to do it.”

Smith said the social media post distorted the truth and that it may have muddied a birthday greeting to a child. He said he was appalled by those who have shared the post and by those providing additional critical comment without reaching out to him to confirm the circumstances.

"It's shameful," Smith said.

Faranda's in DeKalb was not one of the restaurants cited by the DeKalb County Health Department as being non-compliant in COVID-19 related mitigations set by state health officials between mid-March and Sept. 30, according to a Daily Chronicle investigation.

McMahon had said Faranda's remained open in some form since mid-March and he and staff have not been sick because of COVID-19.

“Since I have this space and I can keep people safe and can employ staff and meet expenses, I’m going to do what I can to stay open."

This article has been updated as of 6:45 p.m.

Daily Chronicle editor contributed to this story.

Katie Finlon

Katie Finlon covers local government and breaking news for DeKalb County in Illinois. She has covered local government news for Shaw Media since 2018 and has had bylines in Daily Chronicle, Kendall County Record newspapers, Northwest Herald and in public radio over the years.