David Halpern: 4 Entertainment Group
“I am co-founder of 4 Entertainment Group with my business partners Ben Klopp, Bob Deck and Dan Cronican. We operate 20 bars, including five in Chicago – with another under construction – 14 in Ohio and one in Kentucky. I live in Glenview with my wife and our four children, 7 [twins] to 14.”
“For the most part, our entire Chicago operation had been shut down since the original lock-down starting March 16, . Several weeks ago, when the city started relaxing the occupancy restrictions and extending hours of operations, we opened up Easy Bar and by April 1, the whole Chicago operation will be back [Alive One, Estelle’s, Remedy and The Owl].”
“I am definitely still losing sleep, but I am seeing a huge light at the end of the tunnel since [Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced March 2] that we can have 50% occupancy and can stay open until 1 a.m.”
“The two-hour increase from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. is massive for bars. Now we’re talking about a viable situation, especially for bars which thrive on later hours. Plus, people are getting vaccinations and there is more assistance through PPP and the next stimulus package.”
“That’s all great, but I absolutely think we should be permitted to operate our normal hours now.”
“Our industry has been treated as a scapegoat. There was no science that suggested that bars and restaurants that were following safe distancing and mask mandates were more dangerous than family gatherings or house parties with no restrictions.”
“The reality is, young people were likely not going home at the 11 o’clock curfew. They were getting together in someone’s home, often without masks or distancing.”
“We have been reopening gradually because guidelines keep changing. Three weeks ago, we were planning to reopen with occupancy at 25% or 50 people maximum. Within two to three days the city bumped it to 40% and an 11 p.m. closing. So we had to accelerate rehiring and ordering supplies. This is all good news, but it demonstrates how hard it is to strategize when things are out of your control.”
“The goal posts have been constantly moved during the past year. A couple of our places reopened briefly, and then got shut back down.”
“Most of what we do is bar-driven, and they did not allow bars to be open unless you served food. We do have food licenses at two of the five places, but it didn’t make sense to stay open with just delivery and carry-out. That’s not our forte. There was an option for cocktails to go, but that was a non-starter.”
“Emotionally, you’re drained. It was a balancing act of not wanting to deliver terrible news to our staff but not wanting to hemorrhage cash and never open our doors again.”
“Financially, you’re stressed personally, too. We tightened our belts and lived on unemployment.”
“We still don’t know if our bars will be allowed to stay open and whether people will want to come out and wear a mask. Have behaviors changed? By no means do we have answers to those questions yet.”
“Even in good times, there are always fires to put out and big decisions to make. You’re kind of used to that. The big difference here is that none of this was in our control.”
“The PPP loan process was a nightmare at first. Initially, they gave us eight weeks to use the loan from the time it was approved, but we were still forced to be closed by the governor’s orders. It’s hard to strategize around that. Eventually they changed the time period to 24 weeks, and that became much more feasible for our industry.”
“In Ohio, there was a two-month complete shutdown for interior seating but for the past 10 months we were operating at maybe 50% capacity, with a 10 p.m. curfew. So that was difficult, too. But they changed to no curfew a month ago.”
“Now we are moving forward on opening a sixth property in Chicago by summer. We had acquired the building 18 months ago, before COVID hit, and we have been able to get a construction loan.”
“We took a calculated risk that by the time we finish construction, a lot of people will have had the vaccine and things will be moving the right direction.”
“Another huge factor in why we took the risk, we have a huge patio going in. Worst case scenario, if we open and COVID is running rampant again, we’ll have a big outdoor space.”
Co-founder, 4 Entertainment Group
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