Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Beloved Customers,
It is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to inform you that Irish Nobleman Pub has made the difficult decision to temporarily close for January 2022. This is not the way we anticipated ringing in the new year at a time that is normally full of merriment and joyful planning for the promise of fresh starts in the year ahead. January 2022 will be different. This will be a time of gentle reflection as we bring in the new year in solidarity with our staff, yet alongside some of our restaurant colleagues who have made this same difficult decision to temporarily (or permanently) close their establishments as well. With just days notice, it was announced that Chicago would be implementing new rules which have created sudden additional hardship for many small restaurants like ours.
For the past 2 years most restaurants have been faced with unprecedented obstacles, difficult decisions, and hardship. We pivoted and evolved and shifted our businesses to keep moving forward in the best way we could, while keeping the safety and livelihood of our staff at the front of each and every decision. Carefully and tirelessly we worked to execute and enforce each new rule, regulation, and mandate as they were announced- oftentimes we came in above and beyond in exceeding these safety measures. There was a sense of pride amongst our staff for the part which they played in offering up creative ideas and letting us know what they felt comfortable with regardless of “what everyone else was doing.” This included most notably, Irish Nobleman remaining closed to indoor dining (opting to only have outdoor open air dining) even after the ban was lifted, and for several months due to the comfort level of the overall team.
Highlight reasons behind the decision include:
- A few days is not enough time to adequately come up with a financial nor logistically sound solution for many small restaurants to implement this new Chicago and Cook County mandate.
- (Did you know that the average small restaurant has a profit margin of just 5%? That’s according to National Restaurant Association findings, prior to the covid-19 pandemic, with its added costs of disposables and PPE, digital solutions, etc) So, most small restaurants in Chicago cannot afford to just add on a $15-$20/hr doorman during all business hours.
- Our number one priority is the safety of our staff. Without proper planning and execution, we don’t feel confident that we can protect our team and the just days’ notice until the mandate is not adequate time for us to come up with a safe solution.
- With the inability to add on a security person at the door full-time, the full weight of the mandate would be placed on our already minimal (yet long-term) staff to enforce.
- Cumulatively, the staff does not feel comfortable adding this responsibility to their plates. This is partially due to:
- Previous violent episodes from customers after asking them to simply properly wear or put on a mask. Several of these episodes resulted in the police being called. At times police never even responded to our location due to long wait times on hold with 911 and police short staffing.
- One episode ended in a particularly violent display of assault and battery on our staff from a group of young men, when the rules were just explained to them. This resulted in a lot of blood, broken noses, and one employee almost being choked to death by 3 of the offenders. Police response was abysmal.
- In the event that our already minimal staff has a potential confrontation with someone who is overly unhappy to show/share their vaccination status, they are not confident that their safety will be preserved in an effective nor timely manner from the short staffed Chicago Law Enforcement Officers.
- The city of Chicago visited our small establishment more than 16 times on busy nights and days to count patrons at tables, pull out tape measures and measure the distance between customers and their seating areas, and have our already limited staff stop their normal duties to pull all licenses and official documents for review. *We were never cited or fined for any covid-19 pandemic protocol violation* However this experience was difficult on our staff due to the frequency and feelings of being singled out.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, as a team, we implemented every safety measure that we could. We were constantly told by customers and even neighbors just walking past that they “felt more safe coming to Nobleman than pretty much any other restaurant in the city of Chicago.” Spending nearly $50,000 dollars out of our own pockets, we setup an outdoor dining area that was truly open air with more than 50% openings (not contained), state of the art and safe infrared heaters, a digital self-ordering system, self-ordering service window with plexiglass dividers, hand sanitation stations, floor markers for social distancing reminders inside and out, extensive printed signage, 100% single use dishes and flatware (mostly compostable when available), and we supplied PPE to all of our staff at no cost to them either. We were also one of the first to offer free meals to displaced hospitality workers and have continued to do so- all out of pocket with a handful of donations.
With skyrocketing covid-19 cases in Chicago and with what’s being reported as some of the highest numbers of cases since the beginning of the pandemic, our team has some very valid questions. What happened to outdoor dining and social distancing as a preventative measure to slowing the spread and increase in covid-19 cases? Why did the city decide not to extend any extended outdoor dining permits past October 2021- isn’t that when the numbers started skyrocketing and then they forced everyone inside with no social distancing or partition requirements? Not only are our (vaccinated + boostered) staff worried about indoor dining during this surge, but many of our customers have voiced to us concerns as well. We have customers who have not been back since the outdoor dining closed and have indicated that whether vaccinated or not, they do not feel comfortable dining inside during the pandemic.
Where are our City of Chicago Officials on this? What is our Alderman doing to help the small business restaurants? Numerous emails have been sent asking for information on extending outdoor dining permits- many emails completely unanswered and others passing the buck. With all the money these restaurants spent to create safer-than-dining-inside environments outside, and the number of cases surging, why are they not extending outdoor dining permits? Our staff has spoken. Many of our concerned customers have spoken. We listened.
We are incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support from our neighborhood, friends, and customers during the past two years. Having been a family owned, neighborhood staple, in West Town/River West for nearly 20 years, this closure certainly hurts our hearts.
Doing what’s right isn’t always what everyone else is doing and standing up for what you believe is right isn’t always the popular decision. But, what is right for one business is not necessarily the best choice for another. After careful consideration and discussion with our team, we have decided that the right thing to do is temporarily close.