GLENDALE HEIGHTS – Spiro Roumpas received a call Wednesday from a man he's never met, a truck driver who will probably never patronize Roumpas' restaurant, Ki's Steak and Seafood in Glendale Heights.
He just wanted to thank Roumpas.
Roumpas, whose family has owned the restaurant at 705 North Ave. since 1980, announced in a message on the restaurant's Facebook page and on the restaurant marquee that it will not shut down its dining room. This, despite Gov. JB Pritzker's order on Tuesday that indoor dining and bar service in DuPage County be suspended starting Friday to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"He said he has never patronized my restaurant and probably won't, but his father served in World War II, he served in Vietnam, he saw the sign, and he said thank you for being an American patriot. It brought tears to my eyes," Roumpas said. "I said to him 'You're the patriot. I'm just trying to keep my business open.'"
Roumpas' business, Ki's Steak and Seafood Restaurant, is DuPage County's longest standing restaurant, in business since 1934. Roumpas' dad, who left Greece when he was 13 years old, bought the restaurant in 1980 after ditching a job working on an oil tanker and working his way up from a dish washer. Spiro Roumpas started in the restaurant in 1998.
In the announcement on its Facebook page, Ki's said "We are standing up for our freedom and WE WILL STAY OPEN! We have been in business for 80+ years and no one is going to tell us we can’t live out the American dream.
"Our customers are not just clients, they become friends and part of our Family. Besides our loved cuisine, We have always held up to the highest hygiene standards and will continue too. We won’t allow DICTATOR PRITZKER to abandon our friends once again! We will stand up for our rights and freedom!"
Roumpas insists that his decision is a business one, not political.
"The No. 1 reason I am doing this is I am concerned for myself and the business that my dad built," Roumpas said. "I have employees that have been with me for 15, 20, 25 years. They are more than employees to me; they're like a second family. I worry about these people. They have bills to pay, families to feed. They want to work."
Roumpas said his restaurant was fortunate during the summer months, as they were able to seat customers on a large lawn space outside. Ki's decades-long standing in the community helped. Roumpas said revenue is down at least 50%, probably closer to down 60% but "we're surviving."
The latest restrictions, which include a limit of gatherings to 25 or fewer people, came as the West Suburban region of DuPage and Kane counties saw its 7-day rolling average COVID-19 test positivity rate climb to 8% or above for three consecutive days. The restrictions will remain until each region's positivity rate decreases to 6.5% or lower for three consecutive days.
Roumpas, like other restaurant owners, was devastated at Pritzker's announcement of a second shutdown of indoor dining.
"It was like a gut punch," Roumpas said. "It was almost like a death sentence for me and a majority of my friends who are restaurant owners. This will cripple them. We're just starting to get our business back. We're following guidelines, our employees are wearing masks, we're at 50% capacity. If we shut down again we may not survive."
Roumpas said within an hour of his announcement he heard from six or seven other restaurant owners that said they planned to follow suit. 3 Corners Grill & Tap in Downers Grove also has announced on its Facebook page that it will remain open for indoor dining, outdoor dining and carryout.
Roumpas' Wednesday business this week was hardly a typical Wednesday. Community members, people Roumpas knows and doesn't know, poured into the restaurant for a midweek dinner to support the establishment.
"The outpouring of support has been off the charts. It's heartwarming and a good feeling," Roumpas said. "I wasn't trying to be a firebrand. I wanted to stay open, and state the facts."
Roumpas, like other restaurant owners, said he is frustrated that their businesses are bearing the brunt of shutdowns while other retail establishments are allowed to stay open.
"The hypocrisy is crazy," Roumpas said. "You can go into Menard's and buy a screwdriver. Nothing against them, but I don't how that is essential business and there's 500 people there at any given time, as opposed to my restaurant. I guess coronavirus doesn't go into those kinds of stores. I think everybody should be open."
Roumpas, who has about 35-40 employees at his restaurant, said he had a few that did not want to come back to work when Ki's originally opened for indoor dining last summer. So far this time, though, "everybody is on board."
"I've received some negative feedback, which I understand, but I am not forcing anybody here," Roumpas said. "I'm not forcing my employees. I respect if you don't want to come here. One death of any kind is too many. The deaths from COVID-19 have been a tragedy. The loss of lives is never a good thing but they're compounding it with destroying people's lives."
Roumpas said he is not worried about fines or other penalties for violating Pritzker's order. He has received calls of support from people at the village of Glendale Heights, and from the DuPage County Sheriff's Office. Attorneys called Roumpas Wednesday to tell him that he is 100% within his rights.
"I'm sure there's threats that the state police could come, they can fine us if we refuse to close, hopefully not bring me to jail," Roumpas said. "They can threaten our liquor license but we have legal standing. They need a court order to shut us down. I'm not trying to pick a fight with the governor. I'm just trying to keep my business running."