Updated: May 28, 2020
By Michael Stephenson
The food-service industry has been hit hard by Illinois’ shelter-in-place order, but Lake Bluff restaurateur John des Rosiers is facing the COVID-19 crisis head-on. The chef and proprietor of Inovasi and The Otherdoor in Lake Bluff and Salt Creek Tacos in Highland Park has found innovative ways to keep customers happy while continuing to employ nearly all his staff. He is even planning to open a fourth eating establishment, called Bonk, later this summer.
A week before the SIP order went into effect, des Rosiers anticipated business would change dramatically: “We expected the shelter-in-place order to happen. We didn’t sit around and complain. We adjusted to the circumstances.” Des Rosiers modified business models at all three restaurants, and he reassigned servers to answer phones and deliver food and packaged liquor orders. Customers have responded with steady orders and generous tips that have helped many of his employees maintain their income.
The steps implemented at Inovasi, The Otherdoor, and Salt Creek Tacos have kept the restaurants profitable during the shutdown. Business at The Otherdoor and Inovasi has remained consistent over the past two months, and sales at Salt Creek Tacos, which was established in 2019, have increased by 30%, a result of the restaurant’s family-style takeout options.
A popular place for cocktails and happy hour meet-ups, Inovasi asked for and received approval from the Village of Lake Bluff to sell alcoholic beverages to-go during SIP. Patrons can purchase bottles of wine, beer and liquor online for carryout or delivery. And during the state’s Phase Three reopening plan set to begin May 29, bars and restaurants in Illinois will be allowed to sell to-go cocktails in tamper-resistant containers. The law will remain in effect for a year. Even though the pandemic has changed business operations, Inovasi’s liquor sales have remained steady during the partial closure.
At all three restaurants, customers place orders online, selecting curbside pickup or contactless delivery. Online ordering systems have been essential to restaurants weathering the coronavirus, and having a developed ordering system before the pandemic provided extra support once business changed, des Rosiers said.
With summer around the corner, des Rosiers plans to expand with a new takeout concept called Bonk. It will be located in the Lake Bluff Hub & Cycle Shop on Scranton Avenue and will serve classic soups, custom sandwiches, gelato and ice cream at an affordable price. Menu items will be prepared in an assembly kitchen similar to the setup at The Otherdoor. Pending approval from the village zoning board in June, Bonk is planned to open in late summer.
Suburban Chicago is on schedule to enter phase three of Restore Illinois. Beginning Friday, patrons can dine outside at Inovasi, The Otherdoor, and Salt Creek Tacos. All three restaurants will follow approved guidelines for outdoor seating. Parties will be limited to six or fewer people, and tables will be spaced six feet apart. Restaurant staff will wear masks when serving. The restrictions and customer expectations are carefully outlined on this PDF that des Rosiers has shared with customers and on the company's website: https://inovasi.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/JdR-Companies-Reopening.pdf
The impact of SIP orders will be felt for a long time, and Des Rosiers is ready. He plans to keep the expanded online ordering system and takeout-only menus in place, even after indoor dining is brought back.
Another thing he will maintain is gratitude: Des Rosiers is thankful for the community and the support people have shown in the last two months.
Chef and proprietor John des Rosiers, fifth from left, is flanked by his team. The owner of Inovasi, The Otherdoor and Salt Creek Tacos will soon add Bonk, a takeout soup-and-sandwich shop, to his roster of dining establishments.