A fast food restaurant expected to open in the next couple of weeks at the corner of Jackson and Western in Chicago has some neighborhood residents debating the appropriateness of the new establishment’s name.
And some are threatening protests if it doesn’t change.
Felony Franks – “Home of the misdemeanor wiener,” as one of its slogans says, and “Food so good it’s criminal” – is a project of Jim Andrews, who started hiring formerly incarcerated people at his West Loop-based paper wholesaling firm after employees who didn’t have records caused “all kinds of problems.”
As he hired ex-offenders – four are on the payroll now – “the problems started going away. They were grateful they had jobs. They do good jobs,” Andrews said. He wanted to do more, he said, and came up with the name Felony Franks three years ago after driving past a restaurant called Franksville.
Five to seven ex-offenders will staff the new restaurant, getting training in everything from bookkeeping to janitorial work. They’ll be managed by Jerry Tasso, who formerly ran the Maple Tree Restaurant in Oak Park.
Half of any profits generated at the restaurant will be distributed to the employees, said Mary Andrews, Jim’s wife, with the other half going to the Rescue Foundation, a non-profit Jim Andrews founded to help ex-offenders.
Andrews said he looked across the city for a location, from Central and Diversey to the 63rd and Halsted area before settling on Jackson and Western.
Andrews said he’d like to open 40 stores around Chicago. He said it’s difficult for ex-offenders to find employment.
“There’s a question on every job application – do you have a felony background, yes or no? And if you mark it yes, you probably won’t get a job,” he said. “If you mark it no, and lie about it, and they do a background check on you, they’ll probably hire you. It’ll take a month to do a check and then they’ll fire you for lying on the application.”
Monica Brown, however, who lives not far from the store, said the name Felony Franks grates. She’s already asked Andrews to come up with another name.
“To advertise Felony Franks – that’s glorifying you have a felony. It’s not something to glorify,” she said. “Any business that wants to do business in the area should always think of having a positive impact.”
Brown noted the store’s proximity to Crane High School and the Phoenix Military Academy, another high school.
“It’s not OK,” she said, to commit a crime. “We want the kids to think it’s not OK.”
If Andrews, who lives in Oak Park, wants to open such a store, he should do so where he lives, Brown said.
Carolyn Love, however, a resident of the 2300 block of W. Jackson, east of the store, didn’t see any problem with the name.
“I think the name is kind of catchy – Felony Franks. It’s cute,” she said. “He’s opening a restaurant to give these ex-offenders jobs. Who else would do that? Nobody. I think it’s a very good thing.”
Andrews, for his part, said he’s only heard from two people (including Brown) who are against the name. He and his wife have started gathering petitions, which Love signed, that asks respondents if they find the name offensive. Of the 30 or so people who signed last Saturday, said Mary Andrews, nearly all supported the concept and name.
“I have a hot dog on the wall with a ball and chain and with a striped suit on, and the neighbors think that’s offensive? I don’t want to offend anybody,” Jim Andrews said.
“What about Hooters? What about the place by Halsted and Randolph, Bare Assets? … What about Addiction bar and grill?” he said.
But Brown said there could be no compromise on the name – she wants it gone.
“We’re hoping by us calling him, we don’t have to go the route of protesting in front of his store,” she said.