“The space that I currently rent, and likely will not be able to hold onto much longer, the space The Chubby Bullfrog sits in formerly was a restaurant called J.J. Finnegan’s. I actually worked there in my late teens. It’s funny how it comes full circle.
“That space sat empty for 10 or more years and when I got my opportunity I wanted to get into that space and bring some life back to my community.
“A state of panic would be one way to put it. I got up on our bar and I made an announcement: ‘Don’t worry. We put out for loans. We made every measure that we can. We’re going to close down.’ Somebody yelled out, ‘Oh, don’t worry. You’ll be back in two weeks.’
“I’m a first generation American. I have a mother from Ireland and a father from England and I grew up in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois.
“As a kid, I felt a little different because my parents had funny accents [and] we didn’t have a lot of money compared to others in our community. I grew up with the sense that American dreams are attainable if you just work hard.
“[During] my teenage years my parents divorced, and my father went AWOL and didn’t pay any money to help support my mother or my family. My mom couldn’t afford to pay for school clothes or supplies for me. My mother worked seven days a week. She worked full time for the unemployment office and weekends as a waitress. She got me a job as a bus boy and [I] raised money to pay for my shoes and clothes.
“I continued to work in restaurants for most of my life. [When] my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in her life, I made the decision that I was going to leave Chicago and move back to my hometown and look after my mom.
“It was a great opportunity for me to get to know my community again. I had been gone for a long time. I [started] consulting with bars and restaurants. I had the opportunity through a connection I made there to buy into a new business they were ready to open called The Chubby Bullfrog.
“I said, ‘You’re going to do it my way because I want it to succeed. If I’m going to put my name on it, this is my hometown, I want my hometown to be proud of me. I want my mother to be proud of me.’
“This was all my wife and me and just a few other employees. We worked very hard. I was 42 years old [in 2012] when we started this. My wife and I [back then had] recently married and bought a house and started this business.
“We found great success. We were running podcasts for an ESPN show out of there for football days on Sundays; we became an official Blackhawks bar; we were featured on WGN-TV as the Best of the [Northwest Suburbs] on the show “Chicago’s Best.” In 2016, we were voted the northern Kane County small business of the year [by the] Northern Kane County Chamber of Commerce.
“We, in the first week [of the stay-at-home order], were terrified. My wife and I were in complete shock, as was everyone else that we knew. My wife spent 10, 12 hours a day on the phone with unemployment because we both knew we couldn’t afford to be paid anymore.
“We got our PPP loan [so] we had enough money to stay afloat for two more months. The stipulations and rules and procedures [for] how to use that were very ill-conceived. Unrealistic. Unbelievable. Seventy-five percent has to be spent on labor. Well, that is really difficult when your hours have been slashed and you’re no longer operating like you used to operate.
“The governor announced he’s got this five-phase plan. Based on the ‘zone’ that we’re in, we’re on the same par as Cook County and Chicago. ‘Asinine’ is all that comes to mind.
“These people in government – and whichever party you’re in, I don’t care – you went ahead and put out a plan and put out an order that this is the way we’re going to reopen the economy? You did not even speak to the Illinois Restaurant Association to find out how this was going to affect the hospitality business? Politics before governance. It’s shocking to me how this happened.
“[I] agreed to close down March 15 to do my part to do whatever it takes to flatten the curve to protect society. They moved the goal posts. Now June 26 is the earliest possible date for me to open with limited occupancy? I did not agree to this. I did not agree to lose everything.
“I’ve spoken to several other bar owners [who] are like, ‘We’re in the exact same boat.’ I’m waiting for a serious miracle. [But] I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“‘Stay home, stay safe.’ I’m so sick of that message now. We’re setting small businesses up to fail.”
Owner, The Chubby Bullfrog Bar and Grill
West Dundee, Illinois