Editor's note: This article is part of The Beverly Review's annual special section "The Good News"
On an ideal summer night, Americanos restaurant provides the perfect setting for an outdoor meal. A spacious pop-up patio provides plenty of room for customers to socially distance, and the sunset creates a beautiful background.
For A.J. Castillo, owner of the restaurant at 11060 S. Western Ave., the patio, set up in the business’ parking lot, has proved to be a useful investment as establishments like his have turned to outdoor dining and drinking services during the COVID-19 crisis.
He wants visitors to feel relaxed, he said, while enjoying his Modern-Mexican cuisine.
“We were trying to still give customers a great experience without going over the top and being a little too fancy,” Castillo said. “We were trying to find a nice medium where you could go get a nice meal—get some good tacos and a couple entrees—but not go over the top because we weren’t trying to break the bank.”
Restaurants throughout Beverly/Morgan Park have set up similar outdoor patios as the city is only allowing the indoor areas of such businesses to be operated at 25-percent capacity.
Outdoor dining has been permitted since early June.
Americanos’ patio consists of several picnic tables, along with “high-top tables,” similar to those at a bar. Lights hang overhead, and tents have been set up. Musicians often perform.
Bussers set up the patio daily, Castillo said, and other staff recognize that and are sure to share their tip money with them.
Americanos serves brunch, lunch and dinner, and the patio is attracting customers, Castillo said.
“It’s been doing really well,” Castillo said. “It seems like Friday nights have been the best nights. Our Saturdays are very good but a little bit slower.”
Castillo, a St. Rita High School graduate, opened Americanos in March 2018, and the menu ranges from tacos to salads to chicken wings.
When the COVID-19 crisis cut back what services businesses could offer—if any—he united with several other institutions for a hometown raffle to bring in revenue.
Before COVID-19, he used the parking lot for outdoor events, and, if able, he envisions turning the space into a permanent patio, with a bar, bathroom and televisions—so customers can enjoy watching White Sox games with their meals.
He would do that, he said, while “still having most of the parking lot.”
Other restaurants converting parking lots to outdoor patios include Horse Thief Hollow, 10426 S. Western Ave.
Tables, flowers, overhead lighting and a canopy have been installed in the space. An existing map of Chicago painted on the exterior wall of the restaurant serves as the backdrop.
Owner Neil Byers said he wanted to create a patio that was “visually appealing, comfortable, unique and safe.”
He credited Ross Weiler, of RPW Creations, Sal Campbell, of the Beverly Area Arts Alliance, Joe Kelleher, Lizzy Benner, Anthony Massaro, Olivia’s Garden and the 19th Ward for their help.
“My managers and I worked out the logistics for the customer experience, from online reservations until the moment they leave,” Byers said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with the way my staff has stepped up under challenging conditions to provide a great experience for our guests. The response from the community has been amazing, too. It’s allowed us to restore full employment for all staff.”
Ken’s Restaurant, 10522 S. Western Ave., has a similar setup in its parking lot.
Pop-up patios are also in place at Lume’s Pancake House, 11601 S. Western Ave., and Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, 11652 S. Western Ave., where tents keep customers safe from the elements.
Barney Callaghan’s, a bar at 10618 S. Western Ave., is unable to offer indoor service, as the city has restricted bars that don’t have a retail food license. However, the Callaghan Family has opened an outdoor patio in its parking lot and is now partnering with Swanson’s Deli, 2414 W. 103rd St., to offer food options.
Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association Executive Director Caroline Connors is impressed by how such businesses have improvised during unprecedented times.
“The time, energy and creativity local business owners have put into their businesses over the past five months is amazing,” Connors said. “Many have poured thousands of dollars of improvements into their locations to ensure a safe and inviting environment.
“A perfect example is the transformation of parking lots into charming outdoor dining spaces. I would also like to recognize the employees who are putting in extra steps and enduring the heat and sun while serving their customers. Everyone has come together to overcome obstacles, and their hard work is both commendable and inspiring.”