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Illinois restaurant group pushes for earlier reopening

"We want our customers here. We don't want them out in St. Charles," Ken Archer said of customers driving across state lines to visit recently reopened restaurants.

FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. — At Lotawata Creek, the staff runs food out the front door to waiting cars outside. They've set up about 20 curbside pickup lanes, but to-go sales still only pull in about 25 to 30% of what they made this time last year.

"We got bills to pay, and we just need to get things going," owner Ken Archer said.

When St. Charles County reopened, the owner of Magpie's Cafe told 5 On Your Side she saw customers traveling from Illinois for a chance to eat at a restaurant table again, a concern for people across Illinois's restaurant industry.

"We want our customers here. We don't want them out in St. Charles," Archer said.

President & CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, Sam Toia worries about the long-lasting effects of customer loss as Illinois' neighboring states reopen.

"They could lose their customers," Toia said. "Maybe they just keep going to Iowa and Indiana and Missouri from here on out."

The Illinois Restaurant Association is pressing Governor J.B. Pritzker to reopen dining rooms sooner while acknowledging the need for social distancing.

RELATED: Breaking down Illinois' 5-step reopening plan

"No economic model out there for any business — let alone restaurants — can go 16 weeks with no sales or 16 weeks with only 20% of sales," Toia said of Illinois restaurants, about half of which remain entirely closed while the other half brings in a fraction of profit with to-go and delivery orders.

At Lotawata Creek, Archer said they're making enough to keep people on the payroll, but he's constantly watching for any updates from the governor.

"Every day at 2:30, I am seeing what is going on because it's our livelihood," Archer said referencing Pritzker's daily briefings. "We have got about 134 employees here."

At the beginning of the year, Toia said approximately 594,000 people were employed in Illinois' bar, restaurant and foodservice industries. Last week, more than half of those employees — about 321,000 — had filed more unemployment benefits, according to Toia.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

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