The Around the Clock Restaurant and Bakery in Crystal Lake has been around for 45 years, making it one of the oldest restaurants in McHenry County.
But customers who come into the establishment when it reopens Wednesday will see some new changes the owners made over the past few months while it was closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Steve Theofanous said he and his brother, Fano, who own the Around the Clock Restaurant and Bakery, are excited but also nervous at the same time.
“I really feel like a middle schooler going to high school for the first time,” Steve Theofanous said.
The state mandated March 16 that restaurants end dine-in service because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although some places still offered carryout and delivery options, Around the Clock did not and instead decided to use this time to make improvements to the restaurant.
They ordered new kitchen equipment, had the entire line redone in the kitchen, and remodeled the bathrooms to make them more sanitary, including the addition of three touchless faucets.
“Everything is new, so people can feel safe using the bathrooms,” Steve Theofanous said.
Around the Clock also has new carpeting, ceiling tiles and hardwood floors. Even the servers got new uniforms.
“We used this time to just refresh our restaurant,” Steve Theofanous said. “When people walk in, it’s going to be a fresh look.”
That’s not all that’s going to be different. Restaurants that are opening during Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan will be able to offer indoor dining, but there will be restrictions in place, such as wearing face masks, having 10 or fewer people in a party and spacing tables 6 feet apart.
“[With] the face masks,we’re not going to be able to see people smile,” Steve Theofanous said.
With social distancing in place, they also won’t be able to greet people with a handshake or a hug as they normally did.
“We have to be constantly washing our hands and constantly using the hand sanitizer and being very conscious of sanitizing everything,” Steve Theofanous said.
Around the Clock was keeping a clean restaurant before, but Steve Theofanous said they now will be kicking it up a few notches.
“We used to have our tables already preset, [with] ketchup and mustard and salt and pepper,” Theofanous said. “And I [used to] have all the silverware on the table. None of that is gonna take place now; all the tables will be empty. Once the customer comes in, we’ll be having wrapped silverware.”
Around the Clock is planning to have a staff meeting Friday to make sure people are aware of the new policies and guidelines.
Being closed since March has been difficult, Steve Theofanous said.
“We missed a lot of our Around the Clock family,” he said. “We missed our regular customers and our staff. Many of them have been coming here for decades. That’s the biggest part.”
It also has affected them financially. “We haven’t had any income now for the last three months,” Steve Theofanous said.
The federal Payment Protection Program, meant to help local businesses with fewer than 500 employees retain workers and pay bills, was helpful, he said, and a lot of Around the Clock’s staff members also have been getting unemployment benefits.
“But that’s just for a short term,” Steve Theofanous said.
Around the Clock announced its reopening Monday on Facebook, and since then, the post has been viewed by more than 23,000 people, with 387 likes and 128 shares as of Thursday.
“It just blew my mind,” Steve Theofanous said. “And of course, the phones have been ringing. Even when we were shut down, people were calling, and now they’re calling more.”
One thing that will be “back to normal” will be Around the Clock’s menu.
“We plan to introduce our entire menu, and we will have curbside pickup,” Steve Theofanous said. The restaurant also is working on an online platform people can order from and is looking into having outdoor seating.
“We’ve all been looking forward to this day,” Steve Theofanous said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that people have confidence in eating out again.”