PILSEN — Another beloved restaurant on Pilsen’s 18th Street has closed because of a dispute with the city over a mural painted on the restaurant.
Memo’s Hot Dogs, 1447 W. 18th St., closed over the weekend, but owners are hoping a they can reach an agreement with the city to reopen soon. Memo’s is one of the neighborhood’s oldest establishments, having been owned by three different generations of families since 1956, according to current owners Gerardo and Jeanette Garza.
The restaurant hasn’t been able to renew its business license and has been slapped with fines because city inspectors have taken issue with the large, colorful mural on the exterior of restaurant, the owners said.
Jeanette Garza said during an early 2020 inspection by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection officials told the owners they considered the mural on the alley-side of the building a public way advertisement.
A restaurant that has “a sign, canopy, awning, bench, or anything that extends over, under or is on the public way” is required to pay an annual fee for a public way use permit, according to the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
The mural features people eating Chicago-style hot dogs, but doesn’t have the restaurant’s name or logo on it.
Jeanette Garza said she and her husband disputed that the mural was a business advertisement and went to court for the matter during the pandemic, but ultimately lost.
Now, the restaurant’s business license renewal is tied up because of the issue, the owners said. They said even when they tried to file the correct permit, city officials told them the mural still had to come down.
“We’re so lost, we’re clueless right now as to what it is the city wants us to do,” Jeanette Garza said.
Both Jeanette and Gerardo Garza said they don’t want to paint over the mural — not only because they love it, but because they believe it also has kept their building from being tagged.
“I refused to be bullied into painting over it,” Jeanette Garza said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Jeanette and Gerardo Garza said they don’t want to close for good and they’re holding out hope an agreement can be made with the city department.
During a gathering of small business owners and neighbors Monday morning, Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he’s urging city officials to work with Memo’s owners, saying the agency should want to support small business, not close them.
“How does a mural end up with the closing of a business?” he said. “I think it’s unacceptable not to help the small businesses that have been here for so long.”
Gloria and Ofelio Torres, owners of another longtime restaurant on 18th Street, said they attended Monday’s meeting to show support for Memo’s owners.
The duo behind Gloria’s Tacos, 1755 W. 18th St., said they’re similarly struggling with hefty fines levied by the Chicago Department of Public Health over a failed health inspection in June. The restaurant is now in compliance after the most recent inspection in July, the department confirmed.
One of the violations from the June inspection was because they didn’t have a valid food service sanitation certificate, according to the city’s data portal.
Gloria Torres said the pandemic made it difficult to renew because so many offices were closed. She also said she and her husband worked quickly and diligently to resolve the issues, but now are subjected to thousands of dollars worth of fines.
A spokesperson for the public health department said an “assessment of fines” was included with the citations, but couldn’t say exactly how much the costs were.
Gloria Torres, who’s owned the restaurant with her husband for 38 years, said the restaurant is open for the time being but is concerned about how the family will pay for these fines. She said she’s hoping to come to a solution with the public health department.
“They don’t listen, they don’t even give you a chance,” she said. “This is a family place. I’ve cooked all my life – that’s what I do.”
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