“I grew up in Skokie, right in downtown Skokie. When I was a kid, up through high school, I used to frequent the Village Inn when it was Alberti’s Pizzeria. Then I moved away and I got in the restaurant business in Florida.
“But my dad got sick, so I got rid of my restaurant in Florida, came back up here to help my mom out with my dad. And just so happened that one of the Alberti’s had passed a while back and the place had gone through several different owners.
“It was not the neighborhood place I grew up in. So, after a couple of scotches one night, I made kind of a ridiculous offer. He accepted. So, we reopened in October of 1990 – we’re coming up on our 30-year anniversary. As they say, the rest is kind of history.
“We took a small struggling joint and made it into kind of the icon in downtown [Skokie].
“I have a pizza place so I have kids who work for me who live with their parents. So I tried to retain all the employees who had kids, single moms and singles that needed to pay rent.
“So, at first, we paid our full-time employees for their full two weeks, whether they worked or not. That’s put us in a pretty bad financial situation coming off of winter, which is always a bad financial situation in the restaurant business.
“We work on about a 6% margin in the best-case scenario. That’s if nobody calls in sick during that pay period, you don’t have to run any overtime and not one of the probably million moving parts in my restaurant breaks and I have to have a serviceman come in and fix it. Point is that that 6% margin normally works out to be about 2%.
“When we finally did get [PPP], we kept our employees – we have about 24 people working here.
“Opening on Friday, May 29th was challenging, since we set our sights on June 26th. We had lots of work to do, as we always do after winter, to get the patio in the new shape we needed, to operate under less than favorable conditions. The Village of Skokie … offered assistance in blocking off parking spaces or in our case, the loading zone. They have been fairly accommodating – albeit a little slow to the dance.
“The challenge for me in this little restaurant opening debacle is to enforce the rules I’ve been given. I’m a man of integrity and I believe in playing by the rules, if the rules make sense.
“So, we were faced with dilemmas. There is a lack of guidance other than the CDC [guidelines]. Not much specific to the restaurant industry as far as sanitation and health procedures go from local leadership. In fact, not much for county, state and federal guidance as well specifically towards the hospitality industry. We have been creating our own guidance [but] without local, county and state support, it is difficult to enforce. Many customers are confused and reluctant to follow all of the many new rules.
“One other issue is that our patio is on the public sidewalk. Without closing this side of the sidewalk, we find it most difficult to control the actions of our neighbors who walk, run, bike or dog walk through our patio area without masks on. We would like to close our side of the sidewalk and encourage people without masks to cross to the sidewalk on the other side of the street. I’m told by local guidelines that ADA rules call for an open sidewalk for the public to pass. We adhere to ADA rules [but] we’d like a dispensation on this one.
“My employees are starving, so do they feel safe? I try to make them feel as safe as we possibly can. I believe they feel nervous…. I know they’re nervous. I’m nervous.
“I cater to big families, I sponsor sports teams – that’s multiples of 10s, 20s, 30s, you know… and little leagues and kids’ soccer teams. That’s the mainstay of my business, and with none of that going on, I don’t know how the hell we get through this.
“The taxes in Illinois are prohibitive already. Due to taxes, it is next to impossible to make an honest living in my industry. It’s just ridiculous and we just can’t. We won’t take it anymore.
“The yoga studio across the street? He’s closed, out of business. The flower shop next door, closed down, out of business. The Subway store that was supposed to reopen after a fire, they’re done and out of business. You know I can probably name 10 places within walking distance that are not going to reopen.
“You can’t flip a switch and turn the economy back on.”
Owner, Village Inn Pizzeria