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'People Are Ready To Enjoy Each Other': Chicago Restaurants Ready To Welcome Back Diners

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Many establishments have closed in the past year and thousands have lost their jobs.

As Chicago Restaurant Week kicks off, restaurant owners are hoping to attract more business and ease some of the pain of the pandemic. CBS 2's Meredith Barack reports from River North where across the city, restaurant week is different from years past.

It's typically held in February, but owners are thrilled it's overlapping with March Madness and Easter. And they're more hopeful than ever it will bring diners through their doors after such a difficult year.

The neon sign says, "no worries!"

The irony of this message is not lost on Black Barrel Tavern's George Gellis.

"The past year has been worrisome," Gellis said.

The West Loop restaurant had only been open for four months before the city shut everything down.

"I think people are ready to enjoy each other," Gellis said.

It's a sentiment shared at the family-owned Club Lago.

"I'm ready to get back to feeding River North the way that we've done since 1952," said Guido Nardini, owner of Club Lago Restaurant.

Neither Black Barrel Tavern or Club Lago closed during the pandemic. They also didn't have to lay off employees. They credit selling food and drinks to-go or offering delivery.

"We drove to the North Shore, to the western 'burbs, we kept our kitchen busy and we kept our front of house busy," Nardini said. "And without the PPP, I think we would have been one of the many places that just plain wouldn't have made it."

Nardini said despite that, they lost about half their revenue.

"You're lucky if you're above 50%, when nobody can come inside and when Chicago's diners are scared to eat out," Nardini said.

Both Gellis and Nardini are hopeful Chicago Restaurant Week serves as a restart for the industry and upcoming year.

"It allows people who don't know a restaurant to come in, not afraid of price point, and not afraid of an unfamiliar menu," Nardini said. "Because everything is set up for you and they know exactly what they're going to spend and it's advertised."

Also kicking off Friday: Chicago Alfresco. It's the city's new initiative for businesses and community groups to come up with long term outdoor spaces for dining. Grants will be awarded and projects must be designed to be in place for at least six months up to three years.

"It really does come to show you how important the hospitality is to the economy, the nature, and the feel of our city," Gellis said.

There are more than 250 restaurants participating in restaurant week this year, all different types of cuisines in all different neighborhoods across the city and into the suburbs.

Click here to see all the restaurants participating and their menus.


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