A third of Wheeling's restaurants now offer outdoor dining

  • Spears Bourbon, Burgers and Beer on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling erected this tent as it prepared for outdoor dining, which has proved popular this week.

    Spears Bourbon, Burgers and Beer on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling erected this tent as it prepared for outdoor dining, which has proved popular this week. Bob Susnjara/bsusnjara.com

Updated 6/5/2020 5:15 PM

When Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis heard Gov. J.B. Pritzker announce restaurants in Illinois could open for outdoor dining, he knew many of his town's eateries might be ready to jump in.

"So we had a few days before the May 29 opening to get ready," Sfondlilis said. "We offered a packet of guidelines of what you could and couldn't do. Then we put out an application and asked for a simple hand drawing of what the restaurants wanted to do."


As of Thursday, 18 of Wheeling's 55 restaurants -- ranging from small taco shops to the large establishments on the town's famed Milwaukee Avenue Restaurant Row -- are serving customers with outdoor seating.

"I've only heard positive responses from the general public and restaurants alike," Sfondilis said. "We've had a number of restaurants reach out to us and express their appreciation for how quickly we set up a process and made it as streamlined as possible to get them up and running."

One of them is Spears Bourbon Burger and Beer, which set up a sizable tent in its west parking lot.

"We have illuminated lights inside so it's not pitch black," said Spears manager Dan Carter, who has been at the establishment since it opened six years ago. "So it's a nice atmosphere. Even if it rains, we're under a tent and everyone is dry. It's been working great and the village has been golden."

Carter said Spears had a waiting line on Thursday and expected to be busy on Friday.

The outdoor capacity is about 72, compared to the inside capacity of 182 he used to have.

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"We have tables on our patio and use them as a waiting area where you can have a drink," Carter said.

He said he would like closing time to be extended past 11 p.m. "The village has been very cooperative with us. We're just waiting until we can extend our hours because late night business was really strong from 10 to 1 a.m."

Bob Chinn's, the village's longtime seafood restaurant, still is offering only third-party delivery, carryout and curbside pickup seven days a week from 4 to 8 p.m.

"Safety is the biggest key for us, and we didn't feel we could have a structure (tent) that would be conducive to the safety of our teams and our guests for right now, said Chinn's general manager Brian Moffitt. "And we're doing a great curbside business, getting great support from the community."

Sfondilis said a number of restaurants don't want to open until there are opportunities to dine inside.

"It's simply a matter of overhead," he said. "Our larger restaurants seem to be doing well. We're looking forward to Phase 4. We know restaurants are hurting and they need business."

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