maple tree outdoor dining July 2020
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Maple Tree Inn welcomes customers back to dining room

Burnt ends are on the menu at Maple Tree Inn, where guests can now dine indoors or outside. (Provided photo)

From left, Erich Wennberg, Katie Wennberg, Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld and Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller speak during the Maple Tree Inn ribbon cutting ceremony in February. (Chronicle file photo)

The Maple Tree Inn had gotten off to a great start after their Feb. 7 launch in their new Homewood location, but the following month Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order that put an end to all in-house dining at restaurants. 

The only option for continuing operation was to do carryout.

The restaurant, which specializes in Cajun and Creole food, opened in Chicago in 1974 and later moved to a location in Blue Island. The owners purchased the former Cottage on Dixie location in Homewood last August. 

“When we knew we’d be opening in Homewood, takeout was always part of the business model,” said owner Erich Wennberg, who owns the restaurant with wife, Katie. “When we opened, we were too busy at first to do takeout, but we implemented take out in our business model. We pivoted immediately and didn’t have to shut down for a single day.”

Carry-out service continued and even though an announcement was made that the state would permit outdoor dining starting May 29. 

Maple Tree Inn
18849 Dixie Highway
(708) 388-3461
Facebook: Maple Tree Inn
Twitter: @mapletreeinn
Instagram: @mapletreeinnrestaurant

Wennberg said the guidelines were released just three days prior to that date and he knew he wouldn’t be prepared to safely open in that short timeframe. A fair amount of logistics, cost and planning would be involved in re-opening the dining room, not to mention the availability of supplies that would be required.

The restaurant continued to do takeout only until June 24. On June 26 they switched over to indoor only. Wennberg said they’ve worked hard to ensure safety of staff and guests and are meeting all of the guidelines and beyond. Each table is spaced out with plexiglass dividers in between. The HVAC system was upgraded to redesign the air flow so that the air falls straight down. There is hand sanitizer on each table. They’ve also been building up an inventory of gloves, masks and antibacterial products, which Wennberg said has taken months.

“The biggest reaction we’ve gotten from customers is that they feel safe. That’s so important to me,” said Wennberg. “It took a lot of planning to get it right.”

In addition to all the sanitizing precautions, all staff are wearing masks at all times and since April 1 they’ve been doing temperature checks of employees and vendors. They’re also doing contact tracing and having employees keep a log. Wennberg said they’ve been fortunate to not have any incidents of diagnosis of COVID-19.

Burnt ends from Maple Tree Inn. (Provided photo)

He also had an opportunity during the stay-at-home order to get involved with the group “Cocktails for Hope,” which was instrumental in urging Illinois lawmakers to permit businesses to sell cocktails to-go when they were unable to serve alcohol inside their businesses. “It’s been a lifeline for a lot of people to keep their doors open,” he explained. “We were able to change the laws in a month and a half. There are strict guidelines, but it’s provided another revenue stream.”

“We’ve had a good re-opening and we owe a big thank you to our customers,” said Wennberg. “Our goal is to give a little sense of normalcy. We want to be least intrusive as possible while being more strict than the state guidelines. We want to see people enjoying themselves and we want for two hours to transport customers away from life.”

Wennberg said he’s very happy to have opened in Homewood after first talking to Mayor Hofeld about it several years ago and seeing how he has been able to fulfill his vision for the business community. 

“Everything he said he was going to do, he did — and on time, if not early,” said Wennberg. “The Homewood-Flossmoor area is a special place where people are so supportive of small businesses, and they really welcomed us.”

When business moved to carryout only there were modification made to the menu to streamline things and provide meals that transported well. Now that the dining room is open again and it has happened around the time that the summer menu would have been released anyway, customers can look forward to a full menu with multiple appetizers, entrees and desserts.

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