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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

After Ditching Nini’s Deli Due To Owner’s Bigoted Views, Chef And His Friends Launch Takeout Spot For A Cause

Every Saturday, the three friends serve waffle sandwiches and vegetarian tacos out of their apartment to support local organizations fighting for social justice. "If you can give a hand to help, why not?"

Teddy Braziunas, Gilberto Bahena and Sebastian Rivera outside the Avondale home that becomes a brunch pop-up on Saturdays.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LOGAN SQUARE — One of the newest carryout restaurants in Logan Square doesn’t look like a restaurant at all — because it’s not.

Every Saturday, longtime friends Sebastian Rivera, Teddy Braziunas and Gilberto Bahena serve home-cooked waffle sandwiches and vegetarian tacos out of their home under the moniker Milo’s Market. Customers place orders online and pick them up from Rivera’s and Braziunas’ apartment, recognizable for its bright red door.

The three 25-year-olds launched the pop-up restaurant during the pandemic to support local organizations fighting for social justice. So far, nearly all of the proceeds have gone to groups doing that work.

“Giving to charity is the foundation of this,” Bahena said. “No matter what we do … the mission is always to [give back]. That’s how it started and that’s what we want to carry to the very end.”

Milo’s Market was born out of the controversy surrounding Nini’s Deli in West Town. The owner of Nini’s Deli came under fire in June 2020 for his repeated homophobic and anti-Black Lives Matter remarks. Bahena was the head chef at Nini’s Deli two years prior. He was disturbed by the owner’s comments, so he joined others in launching the parody food truck Nono’s Deli in the wake of the controversy.

Nono’s Deli had success and donated proceeds to Chicago organizations such as My Block, My Hood, My City and Center on Halsted, which inspired Bahena to launch his own charitable pop-up with Rivera and Braziunas. They named the pop-up after Bahena’s 3-year-old son, Milo.

“It’s like a no-brainer [with] the times we’re living in,” Bahena said. “If you can give a hand to help, why not?”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
(Left to right) Sebastian Rivera, Gilberto Bahena and Teddy Braziunas stand outside the Avondale home where they host brunch pop-ups.

At Milo’s Market, there are just two dishes on the menu: café con leche-infused waffle sandwiches with egg, cheese, fried chicken and homemade sauce for $10 and vegetarian tacos with seasoned black beans, sweet potato, avocado, yogurt crema, cojita cheese and herbs for $10.

Both dishes are inspired by Bahena’s Mexican upbringing and restaurant training. The 25-year-old has worked as a cook at several places in addition to Nini’s Deli. Most recently, he worked at The World of Whirlpool Experience Center, a teaching kitchen Downtown.

“It was my grandma’s birthday during Lent and she said she couldn’t eat meat on a specific day … she wanted veggie tacos. I went to the grocery store, and we came up with” tacos on the menu, Bahena said.

Bahena is in charge of the food at Milo’s Market, while Rivera, who works as a bank regulator, and Braziunas, whose background is in arts nonprofits, handle the business side of the operation. The three friends went to Von Steuben Metropolitan High School together and have remained close.

“We realized we could really help Berto establish himself,” Rivera said.

Milo’s Market is a true team effort, with each of the three founders dedicated to donating as much money as possible to local organizations fighting for social justice and equality, they said. They’re able to make that work through planning and keeping their costs low, they said.

“If prices are set at a reasonable point, then at the end of the day, we’re still able to cover the ingredients and long-term assets because we’ve planned out future events with that in mind,” Rivera said.

It’s a model they hope other budding entrepreneurs adopt as people across the city and the country reckon with racial and social issues.

“We should be thinking about the people who are fueling our business and be giving back to those people in financial ways,” Braziunas said. “We’re taking a cut of all of our operations and feeding it directly to the organizations that are doing really important work in the community.”

So far, the trio has held six pop-ups since October, with a chunk of the proceeds going to groups like ACLU Illinois, Organized Communities Against Deportations and Thankful for Chicago. The goal is to hold pop-ups the rest of the summer and pivot to donating more than half of the profits to local organizations.

It’s just the beginning for the Milo’s Market crew. In coming months, they hope to add more dishes to the menu and invite others to collaborate with them on art pop-ups, performances and other events that infuse food with community, they said.

They currently only have a food handling license and a business license and have not yet registered with the city’s health department as a cottage food operation, though they plan to, they said.

One day, they hope to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant with the same mission of giving back to people in the community. But for now, they’re content running an informal pop-up that values people over profits.

“Especially with times changing, as my kids get older, I want to be more involved in the community,” Bahena said. In addition to Milo, Bahena has a second son, Liam, who is 10 months old.

“The mission is to build a safer community for the future. We do it for fun, but it’s more for the kids and for the future … . We’re not getting any younger — the time is now. I don’t want to be like those [baby] boomers screwing us over. I don’t want to do that to my children and their generation.”‘

For more information about Milo’s Market, and to order, visit the pop-up’s Instagram.

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