Owner of Riverside Pub in Burtons Bridge frustrated while complying with indoor dining ban

Restaurant owner saddened by difficult position, husband’s death and criticism from competitors

Beverly Earley made the gut-wrenching decision to fully close down her restaurant Riverside Pub in Burtons Bridge shortly after Gov. JB Pritzker banned indoor dining again in October.

In the weeks since, she has questioned her choice to not embrace carryout as the only means of doing business amid the pandemic and been criticized by competitors for speaking to government authorities about her disappointment in how the public health crisis has been handled and what she feels is relaxed enforcement of the state’s rules at other restaurants.

“I’m very small, and we never did do a carryout type business. We had people that did call in for pickups, but that wasn’t something we regularly did,” Earley said.

The beauty of being on the bank of the Fox River is the draw to her establishment and others like it, she said, so not being allowed to host customers for a meal or a few drinks in person means Earley’s business has had one of its main appeals stripped.

Located along Route 176 and the Fox River east of Crystal Lake, the restaurant is a bit of a drive from McHenry County’s population centers, and so she didn’t feel putting more resources into a carryout model would be smart.

While much of the conversation is focused on the penalties for businesses that violate public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Earley feels not enough consideration has been given to rewarding businesses that did follow them, like hers.

She held back tears during an interview when speaking about how hard it has been to make the choices she has and seeing the country’s response to the pandemic.

Specifically, Earley thinks that enforcement being triggered primarily by complaints put business owners in tough spots, making them choose whether to report fellow restaurants for violating the rules.

“We’ve talked about the sticks, but where are the carrots? What is the government going to do for us that did close? There is no thought,” Earley said. “I don’t think they created an environment for an even playing field. They weren’t hurtful, but they weren’t always helpful, either.”

Plus, Earley, who turns 69 next month, misses her husband, Sheldon Earley, who died in June of a heart attack at age 74; the widow is doubtful COVID-19 was a factor in his death, but she said he was never tested and therefore isn’t certain.

Her family has owned the property on which the restaurant sits since 1977, she said, and they leased out the structure to various restaurant tenants for much of that time. Earley decided to take it over and run the restaurant herself as the Riverside Pub about seven years ago.

“People want to buy it. I get calls from everyone. ‘Put me on the list,’ people say. It may be something I might have to consider in two months. I really just don’t know,” Earley said.

But she is planning to give it a go when the virus subsides enough to allow for hosting customers for eating and drinking on site again. She wants to see customers enjoying the restaurant’s outdoor space, as well, once the weather gets warmer.

She thinks the measures she has taken to reduce overhead costs by closing since late November should get her through to reopening, if it can happen in the next few months.

“My bigger concern is not whether I survive a couple months, but what kind of resources I’m going to need with slower business to start opening. I can’t afford to have all that expense and be at a loss for three or four more months and remain in business,” Earley said. “If it’s no indoor seating and no gaming, I realistically cannot take a chance. There is not enough revenue to just start in carryout in my area.”

The Northwest Herald is looking to tell the stories of more businesses impacted by COVID-19. If you’re a business owner willing to tell your story, please reach out to tips@nwherald.com.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.