WEST TOWN — The controversial owner of a West Town restaurant once again is drawing the neighborhood’s ire over his hateful rhetoric and preaching, pledging the business will be more outspoken about its “biblical Christian values” following a long hiatus.
Juan Riesco owns Nini’s Deli, 543 N. Noble St., which serves empanadas, sandwiches and other items.
The restaurant closed last year after protesters rallied against Riesco’s homophobic and racist comments and street sermons. Companies like Nike and Molly’s Cupcakes cut ties with the restaurant, and Riesco told the Chicago Tribune in June 2020 that Nini’s would not return.
But after going dark for more than a year, the restaurant reopened for takeout in July and indoor dining last month.
Riesco is a member of the Metro Praise International pentecostal church in Belmont Cragin, which made headlines in spring 2020 for holding in-person services during the stay at home order. He regularly preaches on the street Downtown and throughout the city.
Riesco frequently shares videos of his preaching on Facebook, as well as bigoted images and commentary which often generate hundreds or thousands of likes.
On June 17, Nini’s posted a picture of an empanada with the text: “Moving forward, you can expect us at Nini’s Deli to be vocal about our biblical Christian values.” The post then lists several examples of those values, including, “Marriage is between a man and woman only,” and “There are only two genders.”
On Monday, the deli posted an image that reads, “Paths That Lead To Hell,” followed by logos for Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood, a rainbow pride flag, a hammer and sickle and the Virgin Mary.
The image then reads, “Paths That Lead To Heaven,” followed by only a Christian cross. The post received more than 6,000 comments, many of them critical.
For neighbor Adriana Markese, Nini’s return has been a “disruption to the neighborhood.”
Her son owns Home Team Pizza, 1363 W. Ohio St., next door to the deli. The restaurant also leases its storefront from Riesco and his family.
“People drive by and swear, say, ‘F you.’ People will stand out in front of his restaurant and say, ‘I’ll never walk in there again,’” Markese said. “It’s not like on a regular basis, but two to three times a week. People who go by on their bikes swear at him, people who pass by in cars. We’re sitting out here and we hear, like, ‘Oh my god, there goes another one.’”
Someone egged the deli Monday night, as well, Markese said.
Markese, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, said Riesco’s “Bible people” preach on the corner every weekend, and Riesco called her the “son of Satan” a few weeks ago for being Catholic.
“I don’t understand how he’s getting away with this,” Markese said.
A Block Club reporter spoke with Riesco at Nini’s for about five minutes Tuesday. Riesco spent most of the time talking about the gospel, asking the reporter questions about his faith and telling him he was condemned before God. He refused to answer questions about Nini’s reopening and his social media posts.
“I’m actually going to pass, bro,” Riesco said. “I want to talk about Jesus Christ.”
Asked if he had any response to those who see his posts as bigoted and hurtful, Riesco pushed back.
“Right now, you’re saying that Christianity is hurtful and bigoted. That is a wicked thing for you to say. … You’re saying that the word of God is bigoted. You will be judged for that on Judgment Day,” he said.
When pressed, Riesco again refused to comment.
“I’ve already told you I don’t want to answer any further questions,” he said.
Neither Riesco nor two employees visible in Nini’s kitchen were wearing face coverings, an apparent violation of Illinois’ mask mandate.
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