Financial woes plaguing Felony Franks

Despite risk of closing, West Side hot dog stand struggles to persevere

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By TIFFANY CHINN

Jim Andrews opened Felony Franks, the home of the Misdemeanor wiener, which resulted in opportunities knocking on the doors of ex-offenders. But now according to Andrews the hot dog stand is struggling to keep those doors open.

"I'm bleeding but I didn't die yet," Andrews said.

Despite some opposition, Andrews opened the restaurant in 2009 on Chicago's West Side.

"When I opened up Felony Franks I ran into a lot of obstacles," Andrews said. "I think the City of Chicago was behind me, but to get to the permits I had to go through the alderman."

Andrews was referring to his public two-year fight with Ald. Robert Fioretti to get a hanging sign over his restaurant. Fioretti did not like the perception of promoting criminality in the message behind Andrew's fast-food restaurant, so he refused to grant Andrews the permits needed for the sign to be placed.

"Before it was just an empty frame with nothing in it," Andrews said. "So as you drove past you saw this big arm holding a sign that was empty, you thought the place was closed."

Andrews continues to face bigger obstacles - financial hurdles.

"I opened it on short money. I borrowed a lot of money to keep it going the right way, and it is what it is," Andrews said.

During Felony Frank's beginning months, business was up because of media attention.

After the cameras cut off, microphones turned off and pens were set down, business started to go down.

Early last year, Felony Franks was in the news because of its risk of closing.

By mid last year, Felony Franks was able to get its sign and business began to improve. But at this point, Andrews isn't sure if the increase in business is enough to remedy the restaurants' financial woes.

The worst case scenario is that Felony Franks may have to close down in the future if financial opportunities do not materialize.

"It's easy to borrow and it's hard to pay it back," Andrews said. "And at one point you have to stop putting in and do whatever you have to do. You can only dig yourself in a hole so deep."

Despite financial complications, Andrews' determination to help ex-offenders may be the string that will pull Felony Franks through the challenges.

"They should have every opportunity that you have and I have," Andrews said.

After about three years in business, Andrews and his workers at Felony Franks have developed a bond.

"I think they are the greatest guys and girls in the world," Andrews said. "They work hard. They are here working as a team not only to keep a business going, but to help develop a business. They are not afraid to do anything."

Calvin Thomas is a manager at Felony Franks and an ex-offender. "Jim's idea of giving ex-offenders another chance is right on target," Thomas said.

Although Felony Franks may be facing challenges, Andrews continues to fight because there is too much at stake.

"Closing Felony Franks would be the hardest thing I will ever have to do," Andrews said.

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