A popular Chicago restaurant owned by a city alderman was busted this week for secretly defying state and local lockdown orders prohibiting indoor dining, prompting the alderman to chalk it up to “an error in judgment.”
City inspectors paid a visit Monday to Ann Sather restaurant, a staple for breakfast in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood owned by Ald. Tom Tunney (D-44th Ward), after reports that they were seating patrons indoors, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Tunney’s restaurant was in blatant violation of Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate that shut down indoor dining beginning Oct. 30 to curb another spike in the state’s COVID-19 cases.
Tunney, whom Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose to serve as chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, openly admitted to blowing off the order. “We have, on occasion, sat regular diners in the back of the restaurant,” he told a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times. “I acknowledge that. It’s not OK. I made a mistake, and I’m owning up to it. I should have not sat regular customers in my restaurant whatsoever.”
“I have a lot of repeat customers over the years,” Tunney continued. “On a sporadic basis, I have let regular customers — very few and far between — in my store. I made an error.”
He then reportedly hung up on the interviewer.
Tunney later released a statement that said, “On a sporadic basis, we have allowed a very limited number of our regular diners to eat inside the restaurant while observing social distancing and mask-wearing rules. This was [an] error in judgment and won’t happen again.”
Pritzker agreed during a Monday news conference that Tunney had exhibited “an error in judgment,” and Lightfoot’s office said, “Any business found in violation of these guidelines has been and will be held fully accountable. No exceptions.”
An employee of Ann Sather told a reporter Monday that indoor seating ended Sunday after they were caught, according to Block Club Chicago. “We were seating some people, but somebody ratted us out,” the employee said.
The story was first broken by Second City Cop, a blog that usually covers stories related to the Chicago police. After receiving a tip that Ann Sather was thumbing its nose to the lockdown, a contributor investigated and discovered that not only was Tunney’s establishment breaking the rules, but it was also taking measures to hide what it was doing:
You enter the restaurant and ask the staff on the sly, “Can we dine in?” They’ll look around and whisper, “Yes” and take you to the “VIP Room.” Chances improve dramatically if they know you, and they knew our contributor.
[Ann Sather] has three seating areas for those unfamiliar – the main seating area along the windows and two overflow rooms. There are empty chairs and tables stacked in the main seating area so it looks like they aren’t serving people. The overflow room to the southwest has no exterior windows and the one window looking into the room not line-of-site so people can’t see in.
The wait staff admits this isn’t legit, but “Tom” told them it’s okay as long as they call it a “private party.” A quick headcount the day in question revealed far more than ten persons.
It is certainly surprising this was going on in a law abiding town like Chicago, especially when the mayor and governor have both said there is no indoor seating allowed in any restaurants, but two sets of rules you know.
Lightfoot and Pritzker, both Democrats, have also repeatedly violated their own COVID-19 lockdown rules. Lightfoot dismissed accusations of hypocrisy in April when she got her hair done during a time when even outdoor exercise was forbidden to Chicago residents. Lightfoot excused herself by maintaining that she is “the public face of this city.”
Lightfoot was called out again last month when she attended a large outdoor gathering celebrating Joe Biden’s apparent electoral victory less than week before she shut the city down again. “That crowd was gathered whether I was there or not,” she said.
Pritzker, who drew the ire of a downstate judge when he threatened businesses with jail time if they defy his lockdown orders, also participated in post-election celebrations. He and his family have also faced criticism for flying to their $12 million equestrian estate in Florida while demanding other Illinois residents stay home.