Update: DeKalb County Health Dept. releases updated business list of indoor dining non-compliance

A Daily Chronicle investigation uncovered nine businesses that had reached the second step of the DeKalb County Health Department's enforcement process for mitigation compliance, which went into effect in early October.

On Friday, the department put on its website an updated list of 13 businesses that have reached at least the second step of the enforcement process, which is an educational letter sent to the establishment.

During the first six months, department records indicated just three businesses reached the second step of enforcement.

Of the 39 local businesses that were the product of over 75 complaints for non-compliance in the first two weeks of indoor dining prohibition, eight of those businesses required repeated warnings by the DeKalb County Health Department.

Jose Arriaga, manager of Country Kitchen said that owning a business during the COVID-19 pandemic has been “really hard.”

“Someone did call the health department on us,” Arriaga said. “The health department came out, saw nobody in here and said that it was a waste of time.”

According to new information obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act, eight DeKalb County establishments were warned at least twice by the health department. Region 1 entered enhanced mitigations earlier this month, which prohibits indoor dining at restaurants, bars and large gatherings. On Thursday, additional mitigations were imposed, effective Sunday, due to a continued rise in COVID-19 cases.

Barb City Bagels, 118 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, PJ's Courthouse Tavern, 202 W. State St. in Sycamore, Rise and Shine Family Restaurant, 1640 DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore, Rambo's Bar & Grill, 140 W. Market St. in DeKalb, County Kitchen in Somonauk, Kirkland Family Restaurant, 507 Main St. in Kirkland, Remingtons Gastropub, 102 S. Third St. in Malta, Sycamore Cafe, 1170 DeKalb Avenue in Sycamore, and Lucky's Poker (1812 Sycamore Road in DeKalb, for serving alcohol indoors) received educational letters from the department after site visits confirmed they were allowing dining indoors, which is the second level of warnings in health department enforcement protocol.

The five other establishments on the county website Friday included El Jimador, 260 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb; Genoa Cafe, 233 W. Main Street in Genoa; Rt. 34 Pub and Grill, 1201 E. Church Street in Sandwich; and Sam's Family Restaurant, 11 W North Ave. in Cortland.

Also, PJ's entered the third step of the enforcement process according to the health department Friday, and was issued a letter of non-compliance, according to the county website.

Arriaga was interviewed prior to additional mitigations being announced on Region 1 Thursday, which will limit further the number of diners able to sit at an outdoor table (six instead of 10), and prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

None of the other seven businesses who received repeated warnings by health department officials responded to request for comment Thursday.

Arriaga said that when businesses closed in March due to Gov. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, the front of the restaurant was remodeled.

“Our waitresses are bummed, they’re just wiping down floors and tables, cleaning and putting things away,” Arriaga said. “Some people do tip, but not everyone thinks that way about carryout orders.”

By the numbers

The Daily Chronicle obtained a live document the health department uses to track non-compliance at local establishments, which is updated daily to add businesses or track false reports and any necessary consequences as needed, said Greg Maurice, director of health prevention with the DeKalb County Health Department.

The records obtained track complaints through Oct. 15, though Maurice said the health department plans to begin publishing local business non-compliant information every Friday.

"As there is currently enhanced public interest in our enforcement activities due to the current mitigation efforts at the state and local level, later this week, we will begin to publish information on our resurgence mitigation enforcement activity on our website," Maurice said. "Once the educational letter in step 2 is sent, the establishment will be added to our public facing website, updates will be published each Friday similar to our recovery and County positivity rate data."

He said businesses who may be ordered to close and then have those closures lifted will be removed from the list, or if they've demonstrated compliance for 30 days.

Included in the 39 local businesses which were reported to the health department for indoor dining non-compliance were everything from restaurants and bars, to poker and gaming facilities, and one bowling alley.

Twenty-four of the 39 restaurants received only one complaint, and didn't require subsequent followups by the health department.

PJ's Courthouse Tavern, which had run-ins with the health department prior to enhanced mitigations and lost its permit for three hours in July, according to the health department, received the most complaints with 14. MVP Sports Bar had six; Sycamore Cafe and Country Kitchen had five; Rise and Shine Family Restaurant, Kirkland Family Restaurant and Lucky's Poker had four.

The information, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, comes one day after multiple DeKalb area restaurants said they will open for indoor dining amid debate on regulations spurred by Faranda's Banquet Center remaining open after health officials said Tuesday state guidelines aren't clear whether banquet centers must adhere to the indoor dining prohibition.

Forge Brewhouse wrote in a social media post Wednesday afternoon it would open its taproom in DeKalb. The Forge, according to the document from the health department, has received one complaint which was resolved with an informational phone call or email.

PJ's was one of three eateries to receive written informational letters, according to the health department, from March to mid-September. The other two, Elleson's Bakery and Edgebrook Golf Course, did not receive complaints during enhanced mitigations.

How it works

The process for keeping businesses in check is reliant almost entirely on a complaint-based system, health officials have said throughout the month. County health department staff aren't conducting regular site visits unless they receive multiple, verifiable complaints that a business isn't following the rules.

And to date, records show no actions by businesses have yet required legal action, according to a Daily Chronicle investigation.

When the health department receives a message that a business may not be following rules mandated by the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have a series of five steps of enforcement to bring the business back into compliance.

First, a health official calls or emails the business to inform them of the complaint and re-educate them, if needed, on the rules they need to follow.

There is no follow-up procedure by health officials for step two, meaning a second enforcement step is the product of another person calling the health department on a business. A step two complaint is verified by either a site visit by a health department staff person or a written letter sent to the Establishment reminding them of the rules and consequences.

Country Kitchen, along with the eight other businesses listed, made it to step two as of Oct. 15 by not adhering to the indoor dining ban.

A third call about a business in non-compliance will institute a second site visit, with written warnings and health officials providing businesses with a "reasonable opportunity" to get their operations in compliance.

The fourth step begins with a follow up: Health department staff check on businesses at the end of their grace period to see if they're now in compliance. If not, health department staff may order the premise to be vacated until the regulations are met.

If all else fails, the health department could pull a businesses' food permit and refer it to the DeKalb County State's Attorney's office for orders to close, a cease and desist or even a misdemeanor and fines.