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Decatur restaurants doing their best, but business hit hard by dining restrictions
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DECATUR BUSINESS

Decatur restaurants doing their best, but business hit hard by dining restrictions

DECATUR — A week into the state's "stay-at-home" order, Decatur restaurants accustomed to dine-in customers are in a period of adjustment after switching to pick-up options. 

At the Downtown Cafe in downtown Decatur, business is only about 15% of typical volume, said owner John Ninnemann.

Friday "has been the best so far,” he said. “It was probably about 40% (of normal) today. We’ve never been a drive-up, so this is out of the ordinary.”

The order put into place by Gov. J.B. Pritzker was meant to contain the widening coronavirus outbreak. 

Much of the Downtown Cafe’s business is retirees visiting for the socializing as well as the food and families, who come for breakfast before or after church. Without the ability to come in and sit down, they’re not coming.

Ninnemann attempted to apply for one of the State of Illinois loans for small business, he said, but one of the first things the application required was for him to upload a copy of his business license, which he only has in a paper version. He had other difficulties with the application as well.

“You have to jump through so many hoops,” he said.

He’s hoping the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus program will provide some assistance soon, and that he’ll be able to visit his bank for a small business loan to tide him over.

“We’re hanging in there,” he said.

Restaurants that are also bars have faced the loss of additional income with the shutdown of the gambling machines, said Al Cohen, who owns Whit’s End locations in Decatur, Macon and Taylorville, Coz’s in Mount Zion, and The Farm in Taylorville, with business partner Carl Blazier, and is sole owner of Gabby’s in Decatur. Business is slower for all the restaurants, he said, though Whit’s is doing better with drive-up than Gabby’s.

“In town, there’s a lot more competition (for drive-thru service) with places like McDonald’s and Wendy’s,” Cohen said. “It’s not profitable.”

He applied to the state for a small business loan on Friday, he said. So far, he’s managed to keep his full staff and is hoping the drive-thru service is catching on. While he has to be closed to dine-in customers, he’s using the time for some painting and remodeling, and has no plans to close any of his businesses.

“It is what it is,” he said.

Diamonds Family Restaurant on North Oakland Avenue is hard-hit by the restrictions, with only about 5% of its normal business, said Ben Veliu, co-owner with Buki Limani.

Diamonds has retained its full staff in spite of the slow business, Veliu said, because he knows his employees need their jobs, but it’s been hard going. He’s offering more specials and free delivery in the city to entice customers.

“We used to be doing well and going up every year,” he said. “It’s really hard to cover expenses.”

He hopes the community will rally to support the restaurant during the shelter in place order from the governor.

“We’ll get through this together,” he said. “God bless America.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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