Jan 11, 2022 - COVID

Restaurants plead for help from Congress

Empty tables
An empty restaurant in Lakeview. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Chicago restaurants are calling for renewed help amid the latest surge.

  • "We were in good standing before the pandemic … then [during the pandemic] we got some PPP and worked hard to get back into good standing and thought we'd be OK," Diana Davila, chef-owner of Mi Tocaya Antojeria, tells Axios.
  • "But with this latest surge we're back to square one again."

Driving the news: Over the weekend 25 big city mayors, including Lori Lightfoot, sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund or risk losing crucial parts of the community.

Between the lines: For a lot of Chicago restaurateurs, the current moment brings a triple whammy of special challenges:

  • Omicron infections keeping workers out of the restaurant and scaring customers.
  • Shortage of rapid tests and PCR results taking up to five days.
  • Icy temperatures that make even hardy al fresco diners think twice about going outside.

The latest: Restaurateurs tell us that it's still too early to tell if the law requiring customers to show proof of vaccination is hurting or helping restaurants.

  • "The bigger issue right now is that a lot of my staff can't come in because their (CPS) children aren't back in school," says R.J. Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants.

The bottom line: "We're seeing places closing all the time," Davila says. "I don't want to hear one more politician say that small businesses are the backbone of our communities if they're not going to do anything about it."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that the emergency assistance program is called the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, not the Restaurant Relief Fund.

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