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Where vaccine rates lag, some restaurants feel mandate pinch; others see sales rise with comfort levels

Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Owner Mike Cameron said part of the uptick is likely rooted in an email newsletter sent to nearly 20,000 subscribers last week pleading for business after early winter struggles. But he also said the vaccine mandate has made things easier.

As COVID-19 cases skyrocketed and some Chicago restaurants began temporarily shutting down last month, Uncommon Ground began mandating proof of vaccine Dec. 17 — about two weeks before the city. Cameron said his staff endured the occasional pushback before the city’s mandate went into effect.

Since then, complaints have largely dissipated, he said. Meanwhile business has risen across the board — dine-in, takeout and delivery, Cameron said. Fellow North Side restaurant owners he’s spoken to recently are “all on the same page” supporting the mandate, he said.

“It leveled the playing field, and I’m glad for that,” Cameron said. “And if it makes my guests and staff feel more comfortable and safer, it’s definitely the way to go.”

Cameron said most criticism has been online; he and other restaurant owners and managers in highly vaccinated areas said negative online reviews and hostile emails have been the worst of the pushback.

Dan Weiss, owner of Dollop Diner in Ravenswood and 15 coffee shops mostly in highly vaccinated areas downtown or on the North Side, said he has heard no concerns from staff about customer response to the vaccine mandate.

 

Three-quarters of residents in Dollop Diner’s 60640 ZIP code are fully vaccinated, according to city data, which is one of the highest rates in the city.

“A number of things are making business difficult, but a vaccine mandate is not the No. 1 thing,” he said. “I’m more worried about it being zero degrees.”

Weiss said he’s not a fan of putting restrictions on customers or asking for what he considers private information. But he’s ultimately comfortable with the mandate.

“It’s good — now you can sit in a room and have peace of mind that everyone in there is believably vaccinated,” he said. “From a business owner standpoint, I’m happy to do anything that makes my staff comfortable and more relaxed. But I’m of the viewpoint that there’s nothing but the virus going away that will make everyone happy and comfortable.”

Weiss said his business depends on “people to be out and shopping and living life,” but has largely given up hope on that happening in 2022. He’s hopeful it will be the case by summer 2023.

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