Two black-owned restaurants could open near the planned police and fire training center in West Garfield Park if the Chicago City Council approves a zoning change necessary for the businesses to locate in the area.
On Feb. 28, the Council's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards recommended that the two businesses — Peach's Restaurant and a training center for Culver's Restaurant — be allowed to open within a manufacturing district near the proposed fire and police training center at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. Now that the critical zoning changes have cleared the committee, they're headed to the full City Council for final approval on Feb. 13.
During public comments at the Feb. 28 committee meeting, residents were divided on the proposed restaurant openings. Some West Side ministers and residents spoke in favor of the project, arguing that it would bring in much-needed investment and improve public safety. Other residents and activists, such as members of the group No Cop Academy, spoke out the training facility
In June 2018, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward includes the training center site, held a meeting to discuss the facility's economic impact. Bringing in a sit-down restaurant near the site was one of the priorities that Mitts and many residents and business leaders supported.
Peach's Restaurant is a sit-down eatery that serves Southern-style breakfast and lunch. Owner Clifford Rome opened the original restaurant in Bronzeville. Late last year, he opened a satellite location in Washington Park, inside the space previously used by the Currency Exchange Café coffee shop.
Culver's is a national franchise, but the training center that's proposed for the manufacturing district will be owned by Baron Waller, an African American franchisee who operates the chain's first Bronzeville location. He also owns locations in Joliet, New Lenox and Lockport.
Rome told the aldermen that, as with other locations, he would "hire and train from the [area's] zip code." He also explained that he runs a training program to teach residents deemed unemployable practical skills they would need to get jobs in the restaurant industry.
"The idea is to get them 50 percent ready for actual industry," Rome said. "Either full-time or part-time employment with us or we can get them industry-ready. The idea is to have a ready group of [people] interested in the industry."
There was no discussion as to whether or not the development of the proposed eateries are contingent on the training center's construction. Both candidates in the mayoral runoff — Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot — have called for the city to hit the pause button on the training center.
"I'm not willing to wait another second," Mitts said during the Feb. 28 meeting. "I'm not willing to wait while our kids are afraid to go outside."
As the discussion came close to the vote, No Cop Academy activists loudly protested.
"The only young people under 20 in this room don't want it to happen!" shouted Tanbi Singh, referencing the training facility. "Don't speak for young people!"
"There will be boycott of Peach's!" shouted organizer Page May. "You don't understand our community! Do not do this! This is a terrible idea! How dare you!"
After the vote was cast, the No Cop Academy activists regrouped in the second-floor lobby.
"There will be picket lines every Sunday!" May said.
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