Special to the Hellenic News of America
Two brothers who own a restaurant in the Chicago area have found a way to make indoor dining safe for customers even in the midst of the coronavirus.
Steve and Fano Theofanous have come up with an acrylic partition they call SocialD Partitions that’s easy to install and provides protection from the virus even without six-foot social distancing.
They’ve been installed at their restaurant, Around the Clock in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and now they’re offering it online to restauranteurs nationwide.
“We have had such a positive response,” Steve says.
Around the Clock
Around the Clock, located about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, was started 45 years ago in 1975 by their father, who was originally from Cyprus. He and a business partner knocked down a small truck stop off U.S. Rt. 14 and built the restaurant.
Everyone in the family worked there and in 1983, Steve and Fano bought their father out. They run the restaurant today, keeping it in the family.
Around the Clock got its name from its early years, when it was open 24 hours a day.
It’s no longer a 24-hour restaurant, but the name remains. In fact, it had been a 24-hour restaurant for so long that when they did have to lock up, they couldn’t find the key, Steve says.
It’s a family restaurant, an informal diner serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with an in-house bakery.
“We’re known for our homemade pies, made with all natural ingredients,” Steve says. There’s also decorated cookies for the kids.
Customers and staff have been loyal. Some have been around for 30 or more years.
Steven says their main mission is to make their customers feel welcome, as they bring a personal touch to the food and service.
Then came the coronavirus. Like other restaurants, they closed for three months after March 16 during the government-mandated lockdown.
“We’ve never had to shut down our restaurant for so long,” he says.
They’ve managed by offering online ordering and take out, but the number of customers dining in has been down, even after inside dining restrictions were lifted.
They lost revenue, but more importantly, their customers no longer felt safe. Around the Clock doesn’t offer outdoor dining so patrons were nervous eating indoors.
The partitions were a perfect solution.
“This helps restauranteurs maximize their seating capacity while customers and the staff feel safe,” Steve says.
The partitions meet CDC guidelines even without six-foot social distancing. As long as the partitions are six feet from the ground up, that’s enough to stop the virus from spreading, Steve explained.
“A lot of customers are saying they like the privacy and that they feel safe. Many people are saying they’ve never felt safer dining out.”
The idea for the partitions was developed while the restaurant was closed. The two owners used the time to make renovations. That included new kitchen equipment and new bathrooms with touchless faucets, again out of concern for the safety of their customers.
They were able to secure acrylic, which is seven times stronger than glass, but softer, and it doesn’t scratch. The acrylic is secured with brackets and posts and is 3/16ths of an inch thick.
“They are pretty sturdy,” Steve says. “It’s a quality product.”
Until the coronavirus is contained, and people feel safe again, Steve expects the partitions to stay up, even into the new year.
They’ve been able to keep all 175 seats of the restaurant available thanks to the partitions, though they have socially distanced the tables as a precaution. Since their restaurant is mostly set up as a diner, the partitions work well with the booths.
For restauranteurs who order the partitions in the Chicago area, Steve says they have a crew that will come out and install them personally. For those ordering further away, the partitions are packaged as kits and include an instructional video on how to install them.
“It’s not really that difficult to do for someone with basic carpentry skills,” Steve says.
Each partition is selling around $200. Larger booths cost a little more while smaller booths cost a little bit less.
You can order the partitions with a straight back, standard curved back, custom curved, or tall straight back. More designs are in the works, including one appropriate for fast food.
“This is the way of the future and the more restaurants that make a safe environment, the better off they’ll be and the more business they’ll gain,” Steve says.
To find out more, visit their website, socialdpartitions.com.