Chireal Jordan is a successful Chicago businessman trying to expand his food and entertainment business into the Pilsen neighborhood. His restaurant, the Beercade, was scheduled to open in 2020 at 917 W. 18th Street. Unfortunately having an established record of success is not enough for the Pilsen neighborhood. Jordan has been in a legal tug of war with the Pilsen area alderman who opposes his business. Pilsen Alderman, Byron Sigcho-Lopez says he is standing with his community amid their concerns of public safety, increased traffic, congestion, and potential unruly patrons.
Chireal Jordan is a former long-time Pilsen resident who operates two “Beercades” one in Chicago in the River North neighborhood and another in Nashville Tennessee. The Beercade features chef-curated menus and alcoholic beverages with free vintage pinball and video games. “My Beercades are restaurants and bars built off nostalgia. When you walk in you will see murals dedicated to Farrah Fawcett, you will see Pam Grier in one corner, you’ll see curtains from the 70s and couches from the 80s. This is all stuff my partner and I grew up in. In addition, we happen to have arcade games.”
Chireal Jordan fell in love with the Pilsen neighborhood and knew this was where he wanted to expand his business. He moved to Pilsen in 2006 saying, “I fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the neighbors. It reminded me of how I grew up. People spoke to one another; neighbors knew whose kids lived where. It was a great neighborhood”. With his business on the northside and in Nashville taking off and becoming a huge success, he decided expanding to the Pilsen neighborhood would be a great fit. In 2018 he located a building across the street from his old apartment and reached out to the building owner for six months before he closed the deal on the new space for his latest venture. Jordan says he spoke with the alderman, Byron Sigcho-Lopez prior to requesting a liquor license.
“We went to his office. Sigcho-Lopez, my partner, his wife, and I sat down and gave him a deck showing what I planned to open”. Sigcho-Lopez also disputes this claim saying he’s never met his business partner or the partner’s wife. “We told the alderman what sales we planned, the floor plan, the space, the number of tables, games, the type of food. You know, everything we do when we get ready to open a new place”. He responded favorably saying, “I’ve never heard of this, and it sounds cool”. Jordan says Sigcho-Lopez had one request. He says Sigcho-Lopez asked him to ensure that he would hold a job fair in Pilsen. He agreed. (in a statement, the alderman disputes this claim stating he never told Mr. Jordan to hold a job fair and has never been to the proposed site) Jordan and his business partner filed for their liquor license in October 2019 and announced their plans for the 4000 square foot Beercade. They were both surprised and caught off guard when the alderman and City’s department of business affairs and protections, denied their request for a liquor license. The alderman cited a “deleterious effect” on the quality-of-life standards for residents.
“Unfortunately, we are unfairly being lumped in with certain problematic businesses flagged by a few people living in that neighborhood,” Chireal Jordan said.
In addition to an expanded plan of operations that includes hiring security guards and setting up traffic monitoring for the Beercade Pilsen location, Jordan and his team estimate that the HQ Beercade location will create jobs for residents in the Pilsen area and generate $3-4 million in annual sales tax revenue.
Pilsen community residents have previously expressed concerns about the traffic and potential public nuisances based on their experiences with another bar in the area, Simone’s. Although Chireal Jordan and his Beercade HQ business have not had any previous citations or negative experiences with their other businesses, Alderman Sigcho-Lopez was adamant that potential business owners must have community support and must have a community meeting. He says, “This establishment has done neither”. He also claims he has received a number of affidavits from community members opposing the liquor license for the Beercade. “I will always stand with the community”, he says. He further states, that the Beercade is not being lumped in with problematic businesses. The Beercade is at the intersection of a residential area that creates compound congestion.
Jordan refutes those claims saying “I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. Every time I open a new project, we go into the community, and we meet the alderman. The alderman usually says, talk with the neighborhood association or talk with the condo association or talk with the neighborhood to see how they feel about it. Around the same time a resident, Matt Richmond asked to meet with me. Richmond said he had power in the neighborhood, and he objected to my opening unless he could meet with us. “When I mentioned this to the alderman, we were advised not to meet with him and to hold a community meeting instead. I was with my lawyers when the alderman told us not to meet with him.” After that Jordan says things went left. Shortly after, Jordan received a letter from the alderman denying his liquor license and stating they had 170 residents led by Matt Richmond, all of who opposed his business. Alderman Sigcho-Lopez denied having any additional relationship with Richmond that would have affected his decision saying, “Matt Richmond is one of the community members who submitted petitions expressing concern about Beercade opening near their homes”.
When asked why he refuses to judge the company on its own record versus the records of other businesses in the neighborhood, the alderman says, “he is not here to litigate the record of the Beercade with the company’s other establishments. He is here to ensure businesses follow a community-driven process”.
The Pilsen community has actively fought gentrification in their neighborhood. Alderman Sigcho-Lopez led the fight against the gentrification of Pilsen. He has actively fought against reducing development in the ward that shuts out current residents.
“Gentrification happens when the community is silenced and disempowered. When the community does not have a say in how their neighborhood changes. That is precisely why my office has set a precedent that all businesses seeking a liquor license hold a community meeting and work with the community and nearby neighbors who will be impacted the most”-Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez
When asked if the denial of the Beercade was more about keeping the neighborhood owned and operated by the people in the community, Sigcho-Lopez said that was not the issue as Jordan was a Pilsen resident. Chireal Jordan currently lives in Bronzeville. Pilsen and other LatinX neighborhoods were the subject of controversy last summer when black people were randomly harassed and attacked by residents who said they were protecting local businesses and residents after the looting that occurred to the George Floyd protests.
Pilsen residents have complained to other media outlets in reports about another establishment near called Simone’s often citing it as their reason for opposing the Beercade’s new location, but the Alderman says he has not received any formal concerns from residents about Simone’s. Some residents who signed the petition opposing the Beercade’s liquor license also testified about increased parking concerns, public nuisance issues, and a potential lowering of property values in court documents, often referencing Simone’s or the Color Cocktail Factory as a reason they were opposing the Beercade. Residents feel the Beercade will compound the issues already a problem in the Pilsen neighborhood by other neighborhood establishments.
Chireal Jordan sees it differently. Jordan thinks deserted buildings, lots, and storefronts contribute to crime and public nuisance, not his business. He believes community leaders mislead residents when securing signatures opposing his business. In the October 2020 appeal, the local liquor commission noted that “many of these City witnesses did not know the applicant planned to open a restaurant”. In addition, they said the Beercade’s biggest critics and witnesses, Matt Richmond and Carlos Colon, “were not credible” as “their testimony on many issues mirrored each other to the point of suggesting collusion”.
The October 2020 appeal included the opinion of Commissioner Gibson that stated “I am of the opinion that this owner/operator deserves a liquor license at this location. His deleterious effect will be minimal if at all at this location. The self-appointed community organizer did not inform residents of the type of operation the HQ Beercade will have, and any history of the Applicant’s other city operations.” The opinion of Commissioner Gibson further stated the “alderman claims to have a process for new liquor license applicants, but he has not clearly communicated his process to his staff and any applicants”.
In that appeal, the denial was reversed and Chireal Jordan was granted the license. However, the city has appealed that reversal. It is a process that could be costly and ongoing. Jordan expects a ruling later this month. When asked why he continues to fight this battle, Jordan says, “I do not believe in just chucking my tail between my legs and running, just because I don’t get what I want. But I am not going to cut my nose off to spite my face, either. I have spent time, I have spent resources and I have spent money. I just want to defend myself and what is right, and I do not like bullies. I do not like discrimination.
“We are a good neighbor and have worked to support as well as add value to every community we serve,”.
Update: In a email from the alderman, his representative says, “The bottom line is Byron got petition signatures from residents within 250 feet. He asked Mr. Jordan to have a community meeting (and not a CPD beat meeting as an excuse for a specific community meeting), as he’s pushed for since day 1 of his role as alderman, regardless of the business. Should he throw away process and community voices? Mr. Jordan’s press tour makes it clear he doesn’t think neighbors matter”.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSanders20.