LOGAN SQUARE — Boiler Room’s former employees are scrambling to find new jobs and pay their bills after the pizza restaurant’s owners abruptly shut down the beloved Logan Square spot without any advance notice, workers said.
Owner Russ Grant defended the sudden closure, saying he kept the restaurant open as long as he could amid financial struggles and reached a “breaking point” when employees stopped showing up to work.
Boiler Room, 2210 N. California Ave., quietly closed last week after 12 years in Logan Square. Owners Desiree and Russ Grant went public with the closure on Monday, thanking customers for their “loyalty and support” in a sign posted to the door.
Desiree Grant told Block Club she and Russ Grant, her ex-husband, sold the business, realizing it was time to let “someone new with different eyes take the helm.”
The new owners are opening another restaurant in place of Boiler Room, where pizza will only be “part of” the menu, Desiree Grant previously said.
But the closure caught many in the neighborhood by surprise, including restaurant employees. Workers said they were laid off without any warning as the owners were covertly gearing up to sell the business.
“It was just out of nowhere, right after a holiday,” former kitchen manager Antonio Mendez said. “A lot of people spent their money on Thanksgiving, not knowing they were not going to have a job next week.”
Becca Gleason, a former host, server and food runner, found out about the closure from her roommate, who showed her a photo of the sign posted to the door. Gleason was given $100 in an envelope from the owners when she went in to retrieve her belongings, she said.
“If you’re going to close a restaurant down right before the holidays, or on a holiday, go about it in a more respectful way, other than shoving a $100 bill in an envelope and being like, ‘Sorry,'” she said.
When Boiler Room was closed for Thanksgiving, employees said they assumed the restaurant would reopen after the holiday because they weren’t told otherwise.
Workers said they were confused when the schedule wasn’t posted and the doors remained locked.
Then, they received an email from Russ Grant, who had been running the restaurant the last several months. Desiree Grant lives in California, and was a silent partner.
“Dear Boiler Room Staff, The shareholders of Boiler Room have finally reached a decision. Boiler Room will be closing permanently as of tomorrow,” Russ Grant said in the email.
“I did all I could do to keep the business operating for the last ten months but it was not enough. I appreciate your contribution and will coordinate with you to pick up any personal belongings you may have on the premises as well as your tips. I wish my efforts over the past 10 months had a different outcome but things didn’t turn out as I had hoped. Sincerely, Russ Grant.”
Known for its New York-style pizza and PB&J special (slice of pizza, PBR tall boy and Jameson shot), Boiler Room was a local favorite and one of the first establishments to transform the area around the California Blue Line station in Logan Square.
Like other restaurants, Boiler Room was on shaky financial ground since the start of the pandemic, but Russ Grant said he kept the business open.
“I hate to say we went out of business because we couldn’t pay the rent, but it was not a profitable business. We did spend quite a bit of money keeping it alive,” he said.
Selling the business was on the table for “quite a while” but only came into focus in recent months, when employees stopped showing up for work, Russ Grant said.
He reached a “breaking point” when three “key” workers didn’t show up the night before Thanksgiving, forcing an early closure, he said.
“The bigger picture is this is a tough industry to be in with the post-COVID work attitude,” he said. “Many people we hired worked at four different places in the last 6-8 months, bouncing around from one place to another depending on how they feel, and it’s always the owners that are jerks and all that good stuff.”
The layoffs hit some employees hard.
Mendez said he can’t make rent this month, and he’s struggling to care for his family, including his five-year-old son. He got a job with the delivery service DoorDash, but he’s had to ask family members for gas money, he said.
“This is what gets to me and my coworkers, is that he closed it down one week prior to rent being due, and our last check was only three days worth of work, so I’m definitely in a financial struggle right now,” Mendez said.
Mendez said many of his former coworkers are in a similar boat.
“Since I was the management, and a lot of people looked up to me and my kitchen crew, I’ve already had three people ask me for money, and I can’t because I’m struggling as well,” he said.
A student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gleason said she’s going on job interviews, when she should be studying for her final exams.
“I understand that closures like this are fairly common in the restaurant industry, but that doesn’t make it right,” Gleason said.
Russ Grant said didn’t warn employees about the closure because he didn’t know exactly when the business was going sell. The deal is expected to be finalized later this month.
But Mendez and other former employees, some who were employed at the time of the closure and others who left months ago, said workers deserved to know ahead of time that the owners were planning to sell.
Boiler Room was special because of the culture the workers fostered, and those employees were discarded, they said.
“It’s sad that a couple of my homies are jobless. They put their all into that place,” former employee Beto Mendoza said.
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