Restaurateurs just can’t win.
Take James Andrews, owner of the recently opened hot dog stand, Felony Franks, located on
Even with the difficulties everyone in business is facing — obstacles of a weakened economy, the disappearance of disposable income, and the evaporation of jobs — a city alderman, an activist Catholic Pastor, and a member of a homeowner’s association have band together to place more hurdles in the restaurateur’s path.
Andrews’s concept is simple enough: He hires ex-cons to man the hot dog stand. He has built the concept around prison decor and has developed a menu consisting of Felony Franks, Misdemeanor Wieners, and other names that only prison community aficionados or “Law and Order” addicts would recognize. He hires released prisoners who have served their time, paid their dues, and need to be welcomed back to society.
However, the trio of Chicago Alderman Robert Fioretti, activist Catholic Pastor Michael Pfleger, and self-employed career consultant, Michael Cunningham, a member of Homeowners of West Town, have taken foot-long steps in an attempt to boycott the eatery.
Fioretti has denied approval of a sign for Andrews’ business on the grounds, according to reliable sources, “He didn’t like the name.”
When the good Rev. Pfleger yelled “You are a pimp,” he wasn’t pointing to a guy sitting underneath a wide-brim Fedora in a Caddy convertible with a back seat full of foxy Peroxide blondes with short skirts and bustiers. He was referring to Andrews.
And, finally, Cunningham claimed, “There are positive things happening here and Felony Franks is a step back.”
The trio and a handful of other neighborhood residents claim that Andrews’s hiring of ex-cons is a wonderful thing. He just shouldn’t let people know. They just don’t feel it is advantageous to anyone to broadcast it. They would rather keep the fact that ex-cons work for a living — in their neighborhood — under wraps. (As a matter of fact, they would probably prefer a wrap stand.)
To voice opinion under the cloak of hypocrisy has always astonished me. Why don’t they just come out and say what they mean: Send the cons to the
But that’s the dichotomy of being in the restaurant business. A business man puts his money on a table, develops a concept, and opens his doors, allowing people, who pay little (or, in this case, nothing) to voice their opinion on whether or not they should allow the place to succeed. The owner is on one side. The trilogy on the other.
Andrews, however, is getting a raw deal on this debate. If Felony Franks were in another section of the city, possibly a neighborhood not struggling with gentrification, I am sure the Father, the Alderman, and the career consultant would be less vocal about the felons down the street.
It never fails: People want to take off their shirts and show us their hearts — until they have to accomplish this in their back yards or their own neighborhoods.
To be frank, I am sure it isn’t the hot dogs the neighbors object to as much as the felons who work there. The key, however, is work there. As we all know, nothing is tougher in the restaurant business than finding qualified, honest, hard-working staff. Out of the 13.5 million hospitality industry employees, I would image a good percentage of those have criminal pasts. And there is another portion that should have a criminal past but they have yet to be caught.
Andrews is doing a service to his community. By hiring those who have been released from prison, giving them a new start, a chance to build a life, Andrews is proving the importance restaurants play in a neighborhood. In this case he is hiring people and keeping them off the streets, where many of the employees at Felony Franks would end up as society turns a blind eye on them.
It’s unfortunate that Fioretti cannot see that. But, the big contributors — the homeowners who shutter to think a criminal is working around the corner — have probably applied pressure to his re-election campaign fund.
For the good father, his diatribe of “you are a pimp” is certainly surprising. The Archdiocese of Chicago has had its own problems with those committing felonies and as an activist, standing up because you don’t like the name of a restaurant certainly doesn’t wear well with a man of the cloth.
As for Cunningham, I would think a career consultant would be pleased and honored that someone such as Andrews, with little knowledge in the professional capacity of career consulting, could counsel and hire and help a felon when most career consultants would scratch their heads and turn the person with the criminal background away.
Yes, the politics of restaurant names, manu, ambiance, and decor is astounding to me. And those who pick it up as a cause are even more perplexing. The fact this is taking place in
Andrews and his crew of felony frankers should be commended for a job well done. He should pursue the concept. He should franchise it across the country. He should get a Wall Street Wanker-Banker to take him public. He should make a lot of money.
He could then open a new chain of restaurants called Billionaire Burgers. By then the felons that people accept would be out of prison and he could hire them to man the grills in all those neighborhoods where the hypocrites objected to Felony Franks.