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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

North Center Neighbors, Fed Up With Cloud Kitchens Problems, Want More Action — And Fewer Meetings — From City

"We’re just tired of complaining and not seeing any results from the city,” one neighbor said. The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection says the issues are complex and can't be fixed overnight.

Cars and drivers queue up as security guards direct traffic near Cloud Kitchens' North Center location along Rockwell Avenue in front of the ghost kitchen on March 22, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH CENTER — After months of parking and traffic issues around Cloud Kitchens in North Center, neighbors feel the city is spinning its wheels.

City officials have hosted three community meetings since January to field residents’ concerns about the ghost kitchen at 4131 N. Rockwell St. But instead of finding solutions, the hours-long meetings have gotten “incredibly toxic,” tedious and redundant, neighbors say, and it’s increasingly unclear what the city plans to do aside from more meetings about the issue.

“We just want a basic plan of operation in place,” neighbor Jeff Jenkins said.

Even Ald. Matt Martin (47th) is getting tired of hearing the same problems month after month without resolution. The alderman never wanted the operation to set up shop there and complaints have flooded his office since at least November when Chick-fil-A orders started being prepared at the address. 

“You can imagine a scenario in which we have monthly meetings like this indefinitely,” Martin said. “Where it just becomes a fixture of our professional and personal lives. I don’t think anyone wants to see that happen.”

The city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection mediates the meetings and has blocked reporters from attending. Spokesman Isaac Reichman said he couldn’t give a timeline for how many meetings the city plans to host because the issues neighbors have are complex and can’t be fixed overnight.

“The goal is to come to a long-term solution, not to quickly impose requirements that may not address the issues,” he said. 

Cloud Kitchens specializes in providing commercial “ghost kitchens” for delivery-only restaurants, avoiding typical overhead, licensing and hiring requirements. The North Center location is home to several restaurants offering only takeout or delivery, including Chick-fil-A. It also hosts Monti’s Cheesesteaks while its owner rebuilds after a fire.

But neighbors say the model of the business brings a crush of delivery and truck traffic to a residential area not equipped for it, and litter and fumes have consistently permeated the area.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Cars and drivers queue up as security guards direct traffic near Cloud Kitchens’ North Center location along Rockwell Avenue in front of the ghost kitchen on March 22, 2021.

Deidra Suber, general manager for Cloud Kitchens, previously told Block Club their mitigation plan needs to be given time to work while some neighbors fear these strategies will be obsolete once the site is operating at full capacity.

Complaints at the Rockwell location have dropped by nearly half for the period between Feb. 22 and Monday regarding parking, trash and odors, Suber said in a statement.

“We’ve jumped to address every single issue that has come our way in order to contribute positively to the community, but there is a coordinated effort to move the goalposts by a couple of actors who are motivated only to complain and aren’t satisfied by actions and resolutions,” Suber said.

Jenkins said many of the same problems are still there even if fewer complaints are being logged.

“Cloud Kitchens is saying they’ve gotten less complaints recently so that means they’re doing a great job. But the community is saying no. We’re just tired of complaining and not seeing any results from the city,” Jenkins said.

Reichman said the process to resolve nuisance complaints from local businesses sometimes involves some trial and error, but the goal is to have the community’s concerns properly addressed without causing additional issues or problems down the line. 

“While we understand that neighbors want the situation resolved as quickly as possible. We also need to give [Cloud Kitchens] time to implement the changes we have proposed and to evaluate whether those changes are working or if other actions need to be taken,” Reichman said.

The business department will host another meeting April 10 at 10 a.m. But Julia Miller, CEO of Delmark Records at 4121 N. Rockwell St., says she’s tired of these meetings because nothing feels resolved.

“These meetings are incredibly toxic,” Miller said. “The same issues are regurgitated over and over again at those meetings. Monday’s meeting took two and a half hours of my day. It took my whole morning to be ramped up, emotionally charged about this situation that has not moved forward one inch.”

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