Recently, we spoke to West Side businessman Al Person, who is eagerly waiting for the all clear from the city to open the Sugar Rush coffee and ice cream shop at 620 S. Pulaski Rd. and for repairs that will allow him to open a grocery store at 622-628 S. Pulaski Rd.
Person owns Austin’s 3Kings Jerk restaurant, 5451 W. Madison St., and he’s owned a number of West Side businesses in the past. He talked about growing up in West Garfield Park, what it takes to succeed in business, and how the lack of resources he experienced in his youth informs his approach to community service.
On growing up on the West Side
Well, I’m 53 years old. I just had my birthday on Nov. 11. I was born in 1968. That was after the riots [that erupted after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination and devastated the Madison/Pulaski shopping strip]. But even long after the riots, I saw the effects growing up. You still see the effects of the riots. All those stores, they got their insurance payments and they left.
Growing up, there weren’t many opportunities. We had baseball and Off the Street club. And basketball was just something [my friends and I] did. My grandparents owned businesses up and down Pulaski. I wanted to follow in their footsteps.
I went to Austin High School. Didn’t have many opportunities, wasn’t much available. I struggled through school. You know, typical distractions. Got involved with gangs. You know, I wanted to fit in, to hang out. There was nothing to do and those guys became a family.
I got arrested before I finished high school. Went to prison, came out. Got my GED while in prison, I got a degree in business management and a degree in culinary arts.
I opened up a [Family Time Eatery and Snack Shop at 212 S. Pulaski Rd.]. My grandparents used to own the lounge right there, back when I was a kid, so it was an honor for me to be able to open a restaurant in the very building where my grandparents used to own the lounge.
On what it takes to be successful in business
I learned that you open the businesses that are needed, because anyone can open a restaurant, but if there’s already 20 restaurants [in the area], you’re just going to be another restaurant.
Like, my grocery store, the grocery store is needed. There’s no grocery store in West Garfield Park and North Lawndale. You have stores that are packing up and leaving, for whatever reason. People shop at those stores because they have no other choice, so there’s give and take.
You treat people the way you want to be treated. When you move into the community, you have to take into account what they want. That’s why I host the meetings every Wednesday [at my grocery store space at 6 p.m.] The [number of people attending the] meetings are growing in number, we’re networking, there’s a lot of other business owners coming in, they’re giving their support, give their opinions on how we can be. You have to be mindful of putting the community first, when you’re seeking their support because without the community, you have no business.