LOGAN SQUARE — A Logan Square man is facing backlash for launching an ice cream and popsicle cart that looks like the many paleta carts that dot the once-predominately Latino neighborhood.
Over the weekend, cart owner John Lawrence Geary announced his Logan Square business, Peachy, on Facebook alongside a photo of a blue ice cream cart.
“Today we’ll be in the park at the monument with this cart slangin’ Vegan Ice Cream Popsicles (today’s flavs are Peach and Strawberry)… non dairy, vegan, all organic ingredients … locally made, small batch and home schooled,” the post reads.
The post ignited a firestorm of controversy, with commenters accusing the cart owner of cultural appropriation and of stealing business from paleteros, who are already struggling due to the pandemic.
As of Monday evening, the post had more than 1,000 comments and nearly 2,000 shares.
“So y’all gentrify the predominantly Latino neighborhoods, steal business from these hardworking, usually undocumented families, and then have the audacity to steal their businesses idea and rip clientele from them? Not a good look,” Alejandra Vargas wrote.
“Do you understand the cultural significance of paletas and the amount of hardship and work it has taken the paleteros of our community to bring this every day in sweltering heat to support their families?? Can you all stop gentrifying for five minutes? Damn,” Gabriella Priscilla wrote.
Reached by phone Monday afternoon, an emotional Geary said he never intended to offend or upset anyone. The 35-year-old said he only wanted to share his passion for vegan snacks and organic produce with the neighborhood.
“I’m coming from such a place of love that it’s just saddening to me that I’m getting so much hate for it,” Geary said in tears.
Geary later announced that he would no longer be using the cart.
‘It’s Harmful Towards The Latino Community’
For years, Geary has worked in booking and event production while pursuing side projects. Several years ago, he helped launch an organic produce home delivery service, called Peachy, which lasted about four years.
Geary’s day job at the Logan Square Auditorium took a major hit when the pandemic took hold and all venues shut down. He started pouring a lot of his time and energy into launching a brick-and-mortar version of Peachy.
His goal was to open a healthy snack counter in the former Boulevard Bikes spot next to Logan Square Auditorium. The counter would serve items like vegan ice cream and smoothies made with organic produce, and it would function as a kiosk.
The rest of the space would serve as an entrance to the Logan Square Auditorium. The bike shop left in 2017 after the venue’s owner moved to get an elevator built there.
Geary was hoping to open Peachy by July but kept hitting delays, like many new business owners whose plans have been derailed by the pandemic. That’s when he came up with the idea to start selling his treats via a street vendor cart.
“I saw it as a viable way to — as a one-person … entrepreneur on a shoestring budget — to get started when I felt like I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting because the space isn’t ready,” he said.
Over the weekend, Geary announced his cart was ready to hit the streets. But the announcement was met with anger rather than excitement.
Dozens of people took to Facebook to slam Geary for “stealing” from Latino culture.
Vargas, who lives in Little Village but spends a lot of time in Logan Square, said she was compelled to speak out because Logan Square “has been gentrified beyond recognition in the last decade or so.”
That gentrification has resulted in “Latino-owned businesses being pushed out due to rising rent prices,” she said.
“Paleteros, a Latino staple, already have little to no customers because of the ongoing pandemic,” Vargas said. “These Latino families, who are often undocumented, already have little to no assistance from the government to keep their businesses alive, and seeing these white-owned businesses steal the idea and the clientele in the neighborhood they gentrified is harmful towards the Latino community.”
Another commenter, Carolina Kuhl, a resident of neighboring Humboldt Park who grew up going to the Discount Megamall in Logan Square, said she always begged her parents to get treats from her local paletero growing up.
When her parents said, “no tenemos dinero,” the paletero would give her one anyway, she said.
“We love and adore our street vendors because we know the struggles they go through to serve their communities,” Kuhl said.
“They travel great lengths afoot in the heat, push their carts through the heavy rain when they [get] caught by a storm. They get harassed by police under suspicion of not having a permit or for being undocumented. And they get robbed and beaten as well. So of course, the community and myself get upset when we see things like this.”
Some have also taken issue with Geary selling vegan popsicles, which they argue are no different than the fruit-and-water-based paletas sold by many street vendors.
Asked for his response to the backlash, Geary said he’s “definitely listening and hearing everyone.”
Geary has lived in Logan Square for 15 years. He grew up in Gurnee and suburban Northbrook and has lived in or around Chicago for most of his life with the exception of his college years, which he spent in Colorado.
Geary said he understands paleteros are important to people in Logan Square, but said, “I also think when I was a kid, my dad lived in New York and there were street vendors of all ethnicities. It wasn’t strictly one ethnicity.”
“I’m not sure I could’ve predicted that it was going to turn into such a symbol of that particular community’s strife,” he said.
Geary said many have misunderstood what he is trying to do, which is to provide healthy and affordable lunch in a city often lacking such options.
“My goal this year was not to expect any huge success but really just to create something that I thought was really positive, that I really believed in, when there’s so much f—–g hate going on in the world,” he said. “I’m just saddened because people are hating on something they don’t really know anything about.”
Because of the backlash, Geary is focusing on getting the counter in the Boulevard Bikes spot up and running.
“First of all, I’m concerned [for] my safety. People are threatening me,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit backwards for people to tell me that I can’t do something. I’m not telling anyone they can’t do something.”
But Cecila Aguirre, an Oak Park resident who also spoke out on social media, said what Geary did was “100 percent culturally appropriating at its finest.”
“The target audience is clearly white, young clientele,” Aguirre said. “[He] didn’t take the time to consider the history of Logan Square.”
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