When COVID is the boss

Restaurants adapt as more Springfielders are infected

On Halloween, Sangamon County hit a record high of 123 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in a single day. At least 67 county residents infected have died. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, for the week of Oct. 18-24, there was a positivity rate of 8.2% for Sangamon County. If the positivity rate is at or above 8% for three consecutive days, increased mitigation measures go into effect, per state guidelines.

As of Nov. 1, Sangamon County is under Tier One mitigation orders. All of Illinois is now under at least Tier One measures, the lowest tier. That means indoor dining is no longer allowed and there's an 11 p.m. mandated closing time for both bars and restaurants, among other guidelines. On Nov. 2, Gov. JB Pritzker said data and contact tracing has shown bars and restaurants to be places that "amplify the spread of COVID-19." The Springfield mayor and county officials moved to create their own rules though, which would be less strict and still allow for indoor dining.

Other pushback to the Tier One mitigation measures included a lawsuit filed by Springfield restaurant owners who say they will continue offering dine-in services and defy the governor's orders. Some have said their businesses will go under otherwise. As the disease spreads, just what should be done to balance saving businesses and sparing people of infection remains a controversial calculation.

Making moves

This year has brought an immense amount of change for the Coffeys. They welcomed a second son in July. The couple, Jordan and Aurora, are in their 30s. Jordan is a protege of Augie Mrozowski. Mrozowski retired earlier this year from his namesake restaurant, Augie's Front Burner, in part due to the pandemic. Augie had gone into business with Jordan, who with Aurora ran American Harvest Eatery on the west side of Springfield until earlier this year.

The Coffeys said the rent was too high to maintain after the governor announced a stay-at-home order in March. So instead of extending the lease at the restaurant off of Iles Avenue, the Coffeys decided it was time for a new chapter. They've spent the past few months building a new endeavor called Luminary Kitchen and Provisions (3121 Hedley Dr.).

The Coffeys have offered some private meals as they work to get the venture up and running. They will offer Thanksgiving meals to go. And their new business will offer deli selections, such as charcuterie boards. Carryout orders are part of the new DNA of the business. "We formulated our entire concept and business model and plans around the idea that this might happen around this time," Jordan said of the new mitigations related to the rising number of cases. He said he hopes the restaurant will be open for carryout orders by the end of this month.

Aurora said dining room space will be well under the maximum occupancy usually allowed. There will be room for about 40 diners, spaced out. "Things will start out slowly," she said.

In the meantime, Luminary is also offering a membership program, where diners and supporters can pay upfront for meals, cooking lessons and private dinners. "That club is something created to help sustain us, and our staff and operations," said Aurora.

The Coffeys employ 10 staff members. Jordan said he was able to get some help through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. "That's the only economic relief that we've ever seen." What he and others in the restaurant industry need most, he said, is assistance that won't need to be repaid. "Grants are the only thing that are going to carry mom-and-pop restaurants through this."

The road to, where?

A new Facebook page called "Support Responsible Dining in Springfield IL" lists establishments that have promised to follow state orders, even though the city and county have offered conflicting guidance. It's a way some Springfield residents are pledging to show support to the restaurants following more strict mitigation measures.

The city of Springfield had earmarked federal CARES Act money to help businesses hit by COVID-19. Newschannel 20 reported that as of Oct. 30, none of the $200,000 meant for small business grants had been distributed by the city. It also reported that the mayor said the city still had to create an application process.

On Nov. 2, SIU School of Medicine told Capitol Fax in a statement that it "rejects the simplicity of a false dichotomy that pits public health against economic well-being. We can and should protect both by following the best medical and economic evidence and the public health guidelines designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

Contact Rachel Otwell at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

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