Palatine restaurant's license suspended after workers found living in basement
A Palatine restaurant was fined $2,000 and had its business license suspended for at least 14 days after three male workers were found using its basement as their living and sleeping quarters.
The Dream Place, a Chinese eatery at 1280 E. Dundee Road, had risked having its license revoked for the violation of village code. But after a hearing Tuesday morning, Village Manager Reid Ottesen decided on the suspension and fine to be paid by Sept. 29, when another hearing is scheduled.
Ottesen also required the restaurant, which let its liquor license expire June 30, to remove all alcohol from its premises and to address outstanding violations, such as having to submit a kitchen hood and ducts inspection and cleaning report.
"We made the wrong decision to keep people living in the basement area," said Xiao Lin, the restaurant's manager.
"I know that's not right," he said, later adding, "We promise it's not going to happen anymore."
The living arrangements were discovered after the fire department responded to a call about 1:45 a.m. Sept. 6, entered the restaurant and found smoke and a 10-gallon pot of food on a burner. A worker was awakened by the burglar alarm when firefighters came in, but the basement did not have smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, firefighter Brian Stennett said.
"Had there been an actual fire, they wouldn't have been alerted to the fire until they were in greater danger," Stennett said.
The fire department then called the village's sanitarian, Nicole Nichols, who photographed mattresses, linens, pillows, a dresser, and a tabletop with objects like a glass and razor. She also photographed a bucket containing urine.
The basement has men's and women's restrooms, the latter with a shower head attached to the sink, a plastic tub, a wooden platform and plastic sheeting, Stennett said.
The restaurant's business license is under the name Double L International Management LLC, and its business license application from October 2018 lists Yicheng Liu as the owner/president and Lin as owner. Other documents list only Liu as the owner. Lin said he came to the hearing Tuesday on Liu's behalf.
The business application lists the property owner as Antonio Comacchio, with a P.O. box address in Bensenville. Holden Smith, who represented property management Tuesday, said the restaurant has been a good tenant and it was "totally unexpected" for workers to be living in the basement.
Lin said the workers were in between apartments after their previous landlord raised their rent and had been staying in the restaurant's basement for "a couple days" when firefighters found them.
Lin said he didn't realize how serious the situation was in terms of violating village code. The workers moved to a motel Sept. 6 and are now living in an apartment, he added.
Lin said that Nichols, the village sanitarian, visited the restaurant in August and could attest that no one lived in the basement at that time. Nichols declined to answer questions from the Daily Herald, but village documents show she inspected the restaurant Aug. 5 and Aug. 20.
After the hearing, Lin and Smith declined to answer questions about who pays rent for the workers. Lin said the workers are from Chinatown in Chicago. Lin and Smith also declined to answer questions about why someone would use a urine bucket but said both bathrooms in the basement were in working order.
Lin said the workers slept in enclosed areas of the basement, away from any food storage. All food preparation takes place upstairs in the kitchen, he said.
The restaurant opened last year and was doing well until the COVID-19 pandemic, Lin sad. At the beginning of the shutdown the restaurant didn't offer carryout to protect the health of its workers, he said. It has since resumed carryout but has not served alcohol since March, which is why it let the liquor license expire, he said.