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Diners enjoy eating inside restaurants again in Illinois

Theaters and gyms also opened Friday with Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan

NEW BADEN, Ill. — For the first time in several months, people are once again eating inside restaurants in Illinois.

The state entered Phase 4 of its reopening plan Friday, touting progress as some other states across the country begin to backtrack.

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Back in March, 5 On Your Side interviewed the team at A Fine Swine BBQ right when the COVID-19 closures were just getting started. The BBQ joint resumed dine-in services Friday.

Sitting at a table on the porch, Christine Wheeler and her family were happily chowing down on ribs and macaroni and cheese.

"We've been cooped up at home since the beginning of March. We're excited to get back out and see people again," Wheeler said.

They're regulars to A Fine Swine, but really haven't come much since the closures back in March.  

The lack of dine-in customers, like the Wheeler family, and the ever-changing guidelines have without a doubt hurt the business.

"We're definitely not taking treasure baths," A Fine Swine BBQ's owner David Stidham told 5 On Your Side. "We're down obviously, but we're doing the best we can."

READ MORE: Indoor dining and gym classes: What's coming in Illinois with Phase 4

On top of months-long restrictions, Stidham is sweating over the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan that helped get him through the heat of the crisis. 

"The rules on the loan, they change. It's tricky," Stidham explained. "I've talked to a lot of restaurant owners and bar owners. We're all scared right now that we're going to get on the hook for that and we might have to pay other bills."

Bills like payroll, which Stidham is actually having a hard time finding people to pay. Some employees actually no showed on reopening day, but his pit master was not one of them. 

"I can see where a lot of people didn't want to go back to work if they didn't have to," pit master Drew Anderson told 5 On Your Side. "Because they were making a lot more money not having to work at all."

But after not working for awhile, Anderson felt a bit stir crazy and was ready to return.

"I wasn't on unemployment all that long before I was called back in, waking up pre-dawn to smoke meat for A Fine Swine," he said.

RELATED: Casinos and video gaming can reopen in Illinois starting July 1

Due to the meat shortage, A Fine Swine BBQ has had to raise prices a bit and they don't cook up as much as they used to.

"We can't run the risk of having too much," Stidham explained. 

Some BBQ items might run out faster than usual and their operating hours are much shorter than they were before.

"We will get through this," Stidham told 5 On Your Side. "We're working hard. We have our days when we're crazy busy and that's a blessing. We also have our days where I have to put on Facebook, 'Hey guys, we're still here.'"

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