Restaurant Watcher Sees Pandemic 'Thinning The Herd' In B-N | WGLT

Restaurant Watcher Sees Pandemic 'Thinning The Herd' In B-N

May 6, 2020

An industry watcher says the five Bloomington-Normal restaurants that have closed for good in recent weeks faced challenges even before the pandemic.

TGI Fridays, Zoup, Tony Roma’s, Logan’s Roadhouse, and Slim Chickens all have closed in Bloomington-Normal. Larry Carius is following those closures and other food industry news on his popular Facebook page, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene.

“There’s an old-time term that’s called ‘thinning the herd,’ and with these particular restaurants, they all closed for different reasons,” Carius told WGLT on Wednesday.

Slim Chickens, he said, struggled with its location tucked away to the east of Veterans Parkway. Zoup’s owner was having trouble with the distance from her home in Quincy. The Logan’s Roadhouse corporate parent filed for bankruptcy right as the pandemic hit.

“I have been told that if Logan’s ever gets out of bankruptcy, they may reopen some of their more successful restaurants, and the one in Normal may have the possibility to reopen,” Carius said.

Carius said he’s been impressed by local restaurants’ ability to abruptly adapt, some going from 90% dine-in customers to only pickup and delivery. Yet many restaurants are operating with far fewer employees, he noted, decimating the 9,300 or so jobs at food and drinking places in McLean County. Many have filed for unemployment benefits.

There are some exceptions, Carius said. Annie’s Eats, a BBQ joint on Clinton Street in Bloomington, has hired five new employees to meet demand, he said, adding there is increasing worry the new precautions of this era will linger well past the stay-at-home order.

Now that people have grown accustomed to avoiding crowds and ordering pickup, will they ever go back? And if they don’t, what does that mean for restaurants and their employees?

“It’s not going to be a water spigot, like the governor allows you to open and the customers all flock back,” Carius said. “Many of the restaurants are very concerned that even when their doors reopen, the customers may not come back as quickly as they thought they would.”