Minority firm buys Moo & Oink brand

Stores remain unsold but product to live on

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Moo & Oink, the shuttered retail meat company, will live on in name only as a minority owned company acquired the former store's brand and other intellectual property for $530,000 during a public sale of the 30-year-old company last week.

Robert Beavers, chairman and CEO of Best Chicago Meat, purchased Moo & Oink's iconic logo, name, website, catchy commercial jingle as well as the company's recipes for several of its meat products. Best Chicago Meat, 4649 W. Armitage Ave., makes several well-known local meat products, including Jemm burger and sausage, Red Hot hotdogs and Scala's, Italian meat and seasoning products.

"We are extremely proud to have Moo & Oink join our stable of brands," Beavers said. "It's a brand that is very well-known in the African-American community. Now it will be truly a minority owned."

Beavers and his partner, Dave Van Kampen, were the highest bidders at the public auction held at 111 S. Wacker. The auction only attracted a few bidders. The opening bid started at $100,000. There were no bids to purchase Moo & Oink's three city stores and its south suburban Hazel Crest location.

Beavers said competition from big box retailers made it prohibitive for them to purchase all the stores. He said many of the big boxes want to come into areas that are food deserts, an area where Moo & Oink was once the only shopping option. Food desert is a term that describes an area that lacks mainstream grocery stores.

Beavers said he has high hopes for the brand. The company wants to produce other products, such as barbeque sauce or seasoning that could carry the Moo & Oink brand. These products would be sold in retail stores.

The company also hopes to expand the brand's reach outside of Chicago, targeting cities with high black population like Detroit, Birmingham, Memphis and Atlanta. Moo & Oink's predecessors wanted to expand to those cities before its financial woes.

Van Kampen said the expansion into other markets is doable because of the Levy family's efforts in growing the brand over the years. The Levy family operated Moo & Oink retail stores for years.

"I think they ... (created) a great foundation and now we want to take it further ... move it beyond this region," said Van Kampen, president and COO of Best Chicago Meat.

An involuntary bankruptcy claim by Moo & Oink's employee pension fund forced the company's auction. The pension alleges Moo & Oink owes employees $3 million, a claim which the company denies.

The auction garnered $530,000 for the intellectual property and $68,000 for the furniture, store fixtures and equipment, including countertops, meat processing equipment and freezers.

The auction bought in a fraction of what is owed to First Midwest Bank, Moo & Oink's largest creditor. Courtney Barr, an attorney for the bank, said the auction generated $598,000. The bank is owed $5.5 million.

Barr said the bank is "still in the hole for a significant amount." She hopes the sale of Moo & Oink's four real estate properties would make up the difference. The bank plans to use a real estate broker to put the properties up for sale in the spring.

Financing prevented another minority investor group from bidding in the auction. Attorney Exavier Pope, of The Pope Firm, which represented the group, said he was not surprised that another minority company bought Moo & Oink. He said his group stressed that Moo & Oink "needs to be African-American owned because it had African-American consumers."

His group's initial interest to purchase all the stores was to save jobs and preserve food shopping options in low-income communities. Pope said his group did not bid in the auction because they were unable to get their financing in on time. Pope said it was disheartening that no one attempted to save the business.

"That's a travesty," he said.

Several employees were on hand to watch the auction's outcome. Ronald Raddle, 51, of West Englewood, hoped the company would be sold in tact to keep employees' jobs.

Raddle, a Moo & Oink butcher for 18 years, said it has been hard finding work since grocery stores are carrying more packaged meats.

"I got to find something else," he said. "I can sweep, wipe windows. I will do anything to put food for my family on the table."

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