Even as the weather has officially turned cold, the few businesses in Hyde Park with outdoor dining set-ups are hoping to keep them open as long as possible — but, like most other local restaurants, they’re hoping that indoor dining will soon be allowed back in some capacity.
At Ascione Bistro, 1500 E. 55th St., which opened in the summer of 2019, diners can eat both in the restaurant’s outdoor patio space and a tent set up a few feet nearby. The problem, said manager Nikola Paunovic, is that the tent in particular becomes too difficult to heat when the weather gets cold.
The city’s guidelines for outdoor dining require half of any enclosed structure’s sides to be open to the outside. That allows for proper air flow, but it also means it can get quite cold inside, say, Ascione's tents.
“When it’s super cold, we cannot heat it up …. And we’ve got like seven heaters,” Paunovic said. “When people come out, they come early. As soon as it gets to 7, 8 (p.m.), people are staying home.”
The restaurant is still debating whether to keep the tents up during the winter months. Paunovic said that in general Ascione is doing relatively well — no employees have been laid off, for instance.
“The university is great, they are helping us a lot. Hyde Parkers are great,” said Paunovic. “We are still open, everybody’s still working — so far it’s good.”
Pizza Capri, 1501 E. 53rd St., is one of the few other restaurants in the neighborhood with outdoor dining tents, set up on the sidewalk of Harper Avenue. Uriah Hose, a manager at the restaurant, said they’ll plan to keep the tents open as long as possible.
“As long as we can do it, and as long as people still want to do it,” he said. “I mean, obviously we would prefer that it would be inside.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker temporarily banned indoor dining during a surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall, and has not yet indicated when he will allow it to reopen. (Paunovic said he hoped it might be in the first few weeks of January.)
Last week, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported that some Illinoisans are traveling into Indiana, where indoor dining is allowed. That’s hurt restaurants near the state border, who are seeing as much as a 50% reduction in business.
But Hose says that at Pizza Capri business has been okay (particularly since the food famously lends itself well to delivery).
“The state and city’s been doing a good job of keeping the infection rate down,” said Hose. “We want to make sure it doesn’t get out of control like in California, and they might let us serve inside with reduced capacity.”