Purely Meat, a West Humboldt Park meat wholesaler, cleared the last legal hurdle to move its operations to the former Moo & Oink grocery store building in Austin at 4848 W. Madison St.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the property and half of the Austin portion of the Madison Street corridor, said that Purely Meat bought the property a few months earlier in order to expand. The one issue was that the zoning left over from the Moo & Oink days allowed the user to sell meat to customers, but not at wholesale, which is why the company requested a zoning change.

The zoning change was approved by the full Chicago City Council during its May 20 meeting, clearing that hurdle.

Moo & Oink operated four locations: one in Austin, two on the South Side and one in the south suburbs. All locations closed in 2011, after the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. As Austin Weekly News reported at the time, it was due to a combination of mounting debt and declining sales during the Great Recession.

Since then, the building has been sitting vacant. In 2016, Thom Alcazar, a businessman with experience in warehousing and supply chain management, expressed interest in using it for the Eats Groceries —a warehouse-like store where customers would order food through touch screens and have it delivered to them. Ervin supported the idea and held a community meeting for it, but the concept ultimately didn’t get very far. 

Purely Meat is currently based at 4345 W. Division St. According to its website, the company has been in business for “over 80 years,” starting out at a small butcher shop in the Little Italy neighborhood. The Musillami family still retains ownership.

The company sells meat to stores and restaurants. According to a recent CBS Chicago article, when COVID-19 struck, its business fell by 75 percent. Pure Meats started offering delivery to make up for the revenue loss and its business has been picking up as other states reopen.

The article also mentioned that Purely Meat has been taking extra precautions during the pandemic, requiring all employees to put on “three-piece uniforms” before they enter the building, having employees work one per station instead of three and rotating breaks to maintain social distancing.

Purely Meat’s zoning change application lists Maribel Moreno-Musillami, the company’s current owner, as having a 60 percent stake in the project, with Mathew Pollack, head of Highland Park-based Red Rock Custom Homes, owning the remaining 40 percent.

Moreno-Musillami did not respond to requests for comment by deadline, but during the May 19 virtual meeting of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks & Building Standards, Robert Gamrath, the attorney for the project, confirmed that Purely Meat purchased the property. Ervin said at the meeting that the building “is being repurposed for another meat wholesaler and possibly retail.” He subsequently declined to elaborate on what the retail component would be.

During his 28th Ward virtual community meeting, which was held on the same day at 6 p.m., Ervin said that the company wanted to expand.

“They’re looking to expand their operations to another location, and when we met and talked about [the former Moo & Oink] location, it was perfect for operations they had, and I think it would be prefect for Austin community as we look to fill in balance of Madison [Street],” he said. “They anticipate getting [the construction] going sometime in the fall of this year and be up and functioning sometime in late 2021.”

Ervin mentioned that Purely Meat met with block clubs representing several nearby blocks, which approved the project. And he said that he sees the project as part of the effort to revive the nearby blocks of Madison Street. The Austin portion of the 28th Ward includes the section of Madison Street between the neighborhood’s eastern border and Laramie Ave., as well as three blocks on the west portion of the street between Laramie and Lorel avenues.