BLACK IN BUSINESS

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PATRONS DINE AT Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles in Bronzeville on Sunday after in-room dining resumed on Friday, June 26. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

Businesses in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods join the city in Phase 4 as they slowly reopen

By Erick Johnson

The wait was at least an hour on Sunday at Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles restaurant in Bronzeville. One woman waited at least 40 minutes for her food after placing her order. The line for customers waiting for a table inside and the outdoor patio kept growing by the minute.

It was the first weekend of in-room dining for businesses that had been closed for three months during the coronavirus pandemic. From Bronzeville to Chatham, boarded-up windows and padlocked doors gave way to humming cash registers and treadmills as restaurants, gyms and other businesses in Chicago’s Black community resumed their operations.

For business owners and employees, it was the beginning of a long recovery. One week before the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, business was slow at some establishments and busy at others.

Under Phase 4, restaurants, fitness gyms, museums and movie theaters can operate at 25 percent capacity.

Navy Pier opened June 10, the Shedd Aquarium is scheduled to open July 3. As of Sunday, June 28, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park was still closed; officials have not announced a date when it will reopen.

In Chatham, the popular Studio Movie Grill was still closed Sunday as COVID-19 testing continued in the facility’s parking lot. The movie chain opened many of its theaters in other U.S. cities, but has not announced a reopening date of its Chatham location.

At 6 a.m. on Friday, the LA Fitness at 35th and King Drive opened its doors, but most of its customers stayed away. Most of the exercise equipment sat empty and the men’s locker room was mostly vacant. Patrons were able to use lockers, but the showers and pool remained closed. Patrons were also given a temperature test at the check-in desk. Fitness guests also wore face masks while exercising on the treadmill and other machines. There were about three gallons of hand sanitizer on a table near the check-in desk.

But the biggest excitement among diners and restaurant owners was the reopening of in-room dining.

In-room dining was slow at Daley’s restaurant in Woodlawn on Friday, where two groups of patrons ate breakfast at two tables spaced six feet apart. Like some restaurants, Daley’s kept its takeout service open throughout the pandemic while its dining room stayed closed.

In Bronzeville, Peaches Restaurant at 47th and King Drive remained closed for in-room dining, but the popular eatery was in its second week of offering takeout service.

At 43rd Street, the popular Norm’s Bistro flung open its doors Friday and its outdoor patio after the restaurant closed in March. On Sunday, there were many seats available outside and several groups of guests dined indoors.

A few blocks east at the iconic Lem’s Barbeque in Chatham, a line of customers stretched around the building while just three people were allowed inside to place their orders.

Perhaps the busiest restaurant was Chicago’s Home of Chicken & Waffles. During a Crusader visit, diners took up most of the tables at the eatery’s outdoor patio. There was a 20-minute-wait just to place an order or request a table.

On Sunday, a large and growing group of people stood outside the Five Loaves Eatery in Chatham at 405 E. 75th St. Inside, the chairs remained on top of the tables, but the popular restaurant was offering take-out service.

A CROWD OF people wait to pick up their food on Sunday at the Five Loaves Eatery in Chatham on 75th Street. (Photo by Keith Chambers)

Five Loaves was among several businesses on 75th Street participating in “Dine on the 5,” an annual summer event that encourages patrons to frequent the corridor. Earlier this month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot designated the 75th Street corridor as one of five neighborhoods where outdoor dining is expanded with limited traffic.

“We are thrilled to be taking this exciting next step in Chicago’s outdoor dining program following the emphatic success of our initial three pilot streets,” said Mayor Lightfoot.

“Our city’s small and local businesses make up the fabric of our beloved neighborhoods, as well as represent the backbone of our economy, and thanks to this program, many of them will be able to safely welcome more customers, bring employees back to work, and recover from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis. As we move forward into Phase Four of our reopening framework, we hope to continue to expand this program even further and allow all of Chicago’s businesses to thrive.”

During a visit by a Crusader reporter, traffic was not blocked on Sunday and few patrons sat outside at the Original Soul Vegetarian, 203 E. 75th St. A line of customers waited for tables indoors, however.

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