- Archer Heights & West Elsdon: Jan Kopec
- Archer Heights & West Elsdon: Mind + Hand
- Avalon Park & Calumet Heights: Taurus Flavors
- Bridgeport: Johnny O’s
- Chatham: Mather’s—More Than a Café
- Chinatown: Chinese-language newspapers
- Clearing & Garfield Ridge: St. Camillus
- La Villita: Raspa Man Don Lupillo
- Roseland: Argus Brewery
- South Chicago: Carlos Rosas of Calumet Fisheries
- South Loop: Overflow Coffee Bar and Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House
Archer Heights & West Elsdon
In Memoriam: Jan Kopec
Earlier this summer, Archer Heights lost one of its longtime residents in a tragic cycling accident near the corner of South Archer and Kostner Avenues. Jan Kopec, eighty-three, was out on one of his many trips to see relatives in nearby Garfield Ridge when he was struck and killed early in the evening of August 21. Like many in the community, Jan was an immigrant who was born outside the United States. He moved here from Poland in 1979, along with his wife and children, and lived his entire life in Archer Heights, briefly with his in-laws and then in a home of his own across the street from St. Bruno Parish.
Jan’s daughter, Barbara Kopec Cislo, remembers him as a kind and generous man who took tremendous pride in St. Bruno and would regularly volunteer to maintain the exterior of the building by sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling the snow, and helping the maintenance workers. He did much the same for a family next door, pitching in to help with home improvement projects and regular maintenance, and developing a close relationship with them despite a significant language barrier (Jan spoke only Polish, and his neighbors spoke Spanish).
Barbara remembered her father as a thoughtful man and an avid reader, and also as someone who loved working with his hands. She said he worked construction when first moving to the U.S. before starting a decades-long career at the now-closed Hendrickson spring factory. He loved woodworking and shoe repair as well, and later in life, cycling became a way for him to remain active as age began to take its natural toll. “He would say when he ‘greased those joints’ by biking he would feel better,” Barbara said.
Jan is survived by his wife, three children, seven grandchildren, and many extended family members. (Dixon Galvez-Searle)
Archer Heights, and the southwest side in general, is home to a large number of factories and shipping facilities, and its streets see a great deal of truck traffic. Long stretches of Archer Ave. practically invite vehicles to travel at a high speed, and city and state officials would do well to implement safety measures like bike lanes and well-placed stop signs to protect cyclists. The nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance has organized an Archer Avenue working group currently focusing on the northeastern part of the street, near Bridgeport and Chinatown. To get involved, contact ATA advocacy manager Julia Gerasimenko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Memoriam: Mind + Hand
If you squint hard at the brown brick façade of the Royal Bank building at 5400 South Pulaski, you can almost see the outline of the large, colorful, circuit-themed logo that used to advertise Mind + Hand, a neighborhood technology hub that once occupied the second floor. For a little more than three years (2016 through late 2019) Mind + Hand provided a space for students at nearby Curie, Hancock, and Solorio high schools to learn coding, indulge their creativity, and imagine (as well as plan for) a future in the tech industry.
During its too-short tenure in West Elsdon, Mind + Hand, which was featured as the “Best Technological Community Center” in 2018 BoSS, carved out a niche as one of the few public neighborhood hangout spots for the southwest side’s booming population of students and young people. Those who were drawn in by the somewhat cryptic sign (it sort of resembled a Starbucks logo) were treated to a plethora of tech resources from late-model Mac computers to a 3D printer, and more. It wasn’t uncommon to see the entire Mind + Hand space filled with people, both during the many events they hosted or on any given weekday after school.
In addition to its programming for teens, Mind + Hand also offered activities and workshops for younger kids, and for adults: everything from a monthly Salsa night, to pumpkin carving, to networking events for current and would-be small business owners. Not to mention regular workshops for area teachers and administrators to help them incorporate tech into their classrooms. And it wasn’t uncommon to see other tech and community-based nonprofits using the space for their own meetings thanks to the generosity of the proprietors.
Sadly, what could have blossomed into a neighborhood institution ended up closing in the blink of an eye, its website shuttered and its social media accounts gone dark. (The Weekly heard from former employees that there were issues with funding, but former leadership for the nonprofit didn’t respond to a request for comment.) Mind + Hand attracted big crowds, quickly, and its unique presence and programming will be missed. (Dixon Galvez-Searle)
Young people looking for online coding classes might consider previous Mind + Hand collaborator We All Code, weallcode.org.
Avalon Park & Calumet Heights
In Memoriam for the Best (and Oldest) Black-Owned Hoagy and Steak Shop: Taurus Flavors
Say Supreme Steak or Hoagy Supreme, and many native Avalon Park residents, as well as those from surrounding neighborhoods, will start salivating at the thought of the Taurus Flavors’ palate pleasers.
Growing up, I remember my sister going there a few times a week for a Hoagie Supreme with a bag of Vitner’s Salt n’ Sour chips. The flavor combination was divine. During our childhood, a cousin, who happened to be a Philly native, stayed with us for a couple of years. Once introduced to Taurus’ hoagies she was hooked. Not only did she enjoy the flavor of the sandwich, the hoagies satisfied a nostalgic part of her soul that yearned for anything reminiscent of Philadelphia.
Lines were often wrapped around the building on 85th and Stony Island by people craving a Supreme Steak, also known as a Sweet Steak: a chopped rib-eye sandwich with seasoned grilled onions, American cheese, sweet peppers, sliced tomatoes, and a secret sweet sauce on a steamed bun.
Founded by Edward and Bernice Perkins in 1966, Taurus Flavors is the first and oldest Black-owned hoagy and steak shop in Chicago, according to its website. The eatery has been a beloved fixture in the Avalon Park community for decades.
Unfortunately, around 11pm on May 30, 2019, a vehicle crashed into the front of the shop, causing moderate damage. Thankfully, no employees or customers were present and no injuries were reported.
Less than a week after the accident, Taurus reopened, selling food by special order out of the back door to their parking lot. However, by September 2019, the shop was closed by the city and slated for possible demolition.
Reconstruction was delayed because of issues with insurance coverage and lack of capital. According to Taurus Flavors’ the clause in their policy covered only partial demolition (the twenty-five percent of the damage caused by the car accident) and not the full rebuild.
Despite the popularity of the shop, Taurus Flavors did not have the capital necessary to fund the mandated construction. According to a post on its website asking for donations, prices were kept low (some sandwiches under four dollars) so that they remained accessible; this is because the founder, Edward Perkins, grew up extremely poor and wanted everyone to be able to afford delicious foods at extremely low prices, the post reads. (It also alleges that some employees and Perkins family members embezzled some $1.5 million between 2005 and 2015.)
Today the storefront has been demolished, leaving only a fenced-in lot. In June 2020, the owners established a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $400,000, with the hopes of starting construction by July and finishing by December 2020. They appeared to be working to provide delivery service through a city approved commercial kitchen. Unfortunately, the campaign’s goal was not met, so the future of the building is uncertain. (Taurus Flavors did not respond to requests for comment sent by the Weekly.)
Taurus Flavors is a Chicago staple, and I’m hoping we see the building with the Sweet Steaks and charging bull return to its rightful place in Avalon Park. (Rovetta McKinney)
In Memoriam: Johnny O’s
Last fall, Bridgeport lost one of its beloved institutions when Johnny O’s—hot dog stand, convenience store, late-night meeting spot—closed. The family business of John Veliotis (who died in 2017 after selling hot dogs in Bridgeport since he was twelve years old) and his sons, there were grand plans for expansion in recent years—a long-closed tavern on the property was reopened on some special occasions starting in 2018, and pinball machines were installed—but ultimately, financial issues were too great to overcome. Peter Veliotis, one of John’s sons, told Block Club in October 2019 that a combination of loans and licensure issues had resulted in “a couple hundred thousand dollars” of debt, though he left open the possibility of reopening. Unfortunately, the listed number has been disconnected, there have been no social media posts since then, and the website is no longer active.
If Johnny O’s remains closed and is sold to developers, a possibility Peter intimated to Block Club, it would be a shame. Johnny O’s was one of the things that made me feel at home in a new neighborhood when I moved to Bridgeport as a recent Columbia College dropout at nineteen. It was open twenty-four hours then, and my roommate and I went far too often to be healthy. (In 2015, when I was the Co-Neighborhood Captain for Bridgeport, I got him to write about Johnny O’s as the “Best Triple Cheeseburger.”) Its offerings were cheap but tasty, well-portioned, and consistent. The aforementioned triple cheeseburger, the star of which was sport peppers, was perfect, as were the freshly-made chicken nuggets.
Decades of neighborhood history will also be lost. John Veliotis began his career selling hot dogs from a cart run by his parents outside of Comiskey Park in the forties, eventually opening his first restaurant in the neighborhood in 1959. Except for military service and a side career as a singer, it was his life’s work. “It’s the only way I know how to make a living,” he told me when I interviewed him for the Weekly in 2015. As Bridgeport’s old institutions closed over the years one by one—the Ramova Theater and Ramova Grill, Schaller’s Pump—Johnny O’s provided a glimpse into the neighborhood’s working-class industrial past, and served delicious, cheap food late into the night. (Sam Stecklow)
In Memoriam: Mather’s—More Than a Cafe
Founded by Alonso Mather, a communications innovator, the nearly eighty-year-old nonprofit Mather, based in Evanston, posted a statement July 21, 2020 to its Facebook account, saying, “With the continued threat of COVID-19, as well as changing consumer preferences, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close all Café and neighborhood programs.”
Located on 83rd Street directly east of State Street, Mather’s—More Than a Café, named Best Activity Center for Seniors in 2018 BoSS, opened to the community in March of 2004. Since that time, it had become a rare and welcome community hub—one that was secular, not directly tied to a church, and for older adults. As the name indicates, Mather’s housed a café, but also was home to various happenings like community blood pressure screening programs, computer literacy classes, and a gym. When I went to get information for the older ones in my life on its offerings, the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating. They whispered conspiratorially of their Friday night dances, happy to have a safe place to relax and cut loose. The café served downright decent food at deeply discounted rates to seniors. This meant that Mather’s became a major source of sustenance and community in Chatham.
When I was a kid, we would cut down 83rd frequently heading east to avoid the traffic on 87th. I passed the spot where Mather’s is weekly and from my mother’s car window saw restaurant after restaurant rise and die there. I was surprised and relieved after years away from the South Side that Mather’s was still there truly serving the community when I returned in 2018. COVID-19 has laid low many victims, and this palace of togetherness and belonging will be sorely missed. (AV Benford)
In Memoriam: Chinese-language newspapers serving Chinatown
The COVID-19 pandemic has left few areas of business untouched by severe cutbacks or closures, and newspapers have certainly not been spared.
Several Chinese-language newspapers closed their Chicago sections and offices. Hong Kong-based Sing Tao Daily (星岛日报), once operating out of the heart of Chinatown, first started publishing in the U.S. after establishing its New York City Bureau in 1965. From there, Sing Tao opened branches across the U.S. and other parts of the globe, including Vancouver, London, and Sydney. Although its Chicago page has closed, Sing Tao continues to operate out of its New York and San Francisco offices.
Two other Chinese-language newspapers recently shuttered their Chicago offices––China Press Weekly (僑報) and Epoch Times (大紀元). The former was founded in 1990 by eleven Chinese immigrants who arrived in the U.S from mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, launching their news site in 1997. Since then, China Press has served as a “cultural link” between Chinese Americans living stateside and in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It covers breaking news in the States and abroad, entertainment, business, and lifestyle updates––totally free of charge.
Epoch Times was launched in 2000 within the Epoch Times News Network––born out of a need for access to independent media as the Chinese Communist Party manipulated and filtered international media. In 2003, Epoch Times launched its English website, followed by newspapers in New York City, Germany, and France. In recent years, it has become known for an aggressive right-wing social media strategy.
Despite closures of their Chicago pages and offices, these Chinese-language media outlets continue to inform Chinese communities in the U.S. and abroad from their web platforms. (Francesca Mathewes)
Clearing & Garfield Ridge
In Memoriam: St. Camillus
Clearing and Garfield Ridge are, in the scheme of things, relatively new to Chicago. Annexed between 1915 and 1923, the area grew exponentially in the following decades. Historically, one very important aspect of any new area has been establishing a place of worship.
The nearest Catholic church to the area was St. Joseph’s, located in the nearby suburb of Summit. In 1917, the church wanted to explore the possibility of opening a mission church in the newly annexed section of the city. That year, it established St. Florian’s mission church and rented a few buildings around South Archer and Lockwood Avenues for a church and school. By 1921 the congregation had grown and the Archdiocese was ready to build a permanent church, which was built at 5500 South Lockwood in 1921 and renamed St. Camillus.
St. Camillus grew with the neighborhood and became a cornerstone of the highly Polish neighborhood, regularly celebrating Mass in Polish.
Being located directly across from the one-time busiest airport in the world, Midway Airport, had its advantages and disadvantages. Rumbling airplanes interrupted many a Mass and shook the church quite often. The church was famous for its special 2:30am service: it was supposed to cater to pilots who were passing through and needed a Mass to fit their schedule, but due to the local taverns closing at 2am, the Mass also became a haven for weekend partiers who wanted to fulfill the weekly obligation or to sleep off a little of their buzz. One famous story holds that Delores Hope, wife of famous comedian Bob Hope, popped into the 2:30am Mass while on a layover.
St. Camillus also became a destination for its summer festival, The Taste of Midway. The festival featured the usual summer carnival fair and, in addition, hosted a polka tent and food from many fine Polish eateries.
As time went on though, thanks to changing demographics and a general decline in Catholic school attendance, the St. Camillus School closed in 2005. The church continued to operate until the Archdiocese announced in 2019 that the church would be closing and merging with the nearby St. Jane parish in 2020. The new parish would be called St. Faustina. The final mass was scheduled for April 30, but due to coronavirus restrictions, the Mass was canceled. St.
Camillus officially closed its doors on June 30, just shy of a hundred years in business. (Rob Bitunjac)
In Memoriam: Raspa Man Don Lupillo
Little Village lost one of its most original street vendors to COVID-19. Lupillo Pérez served cups of shaved ice, or “raspas,” with syrup made of natural fruits that he would buy fresh and cook to a reduction at home every day—fruits like mango, guava, tamarindo, coconut, grosella, strawberry, and pineapple, plus other flavors like vanilla and coffee.
He didn’t buy the crushed ice ready to serve, so it was always a spectacle when he revealed a block of ice in his cart and manually scraped it with an old-school metal device called a raspador. Don Lupillo stood in the same place on West 26th Street and South Central Park Avenue for two decades, blending into the landscape of brick-and-mortar immigrant businesses. It’s a shock to pass by that street corner today and see him gone.
A few days after his death, his grandchildren and neighbors pushed his wooden raspa cart on a last stroll through the neighborhood. (Jacqueline Serrato)
In Memoriam: Argus Brewery
Following a decade-long run on Chicago’s Far South Side, Argus Brewery became an unfortunate casualty of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic this spring. It was founded in 2009 by father and son Robert and Patrick Jensen when they set up shop in an old Schlitz Brewing Company horse stable, which was memorialized with the company’s historic logo. (Tours offered of the historical site on the border of Roseland and Pullman were named the Best Brewery Tour in 2019 BoSS.)
Though it began as a pet project for Bob Jensen, Argus eventually garnered national and international recognition for its beers. One offering, the Holsteiner, won Bronze in the 2016 World Beer Cup. In 2018, the Great American Beer Festival awarded Argus gold in the Other Strong Beer category for its Golden Prairie Doppel Alt.
When the brewery first opened, Jensen admitted in an April Patch story that he made missteps in introducing Argus to Chicago, such as “[underestimating] the complexity of the business,” but the increased attention gave him ideas for how to expand. He brought in experienced Chicago brewers and was planning to open a taproom at the site. Legal and logistical problems kept delaying the opening of the taproom, so they were relying on selling kegs to bars and restaurants. The indoor dining bans and subsequent tiered openings brought that to a halt and convinced Bob Jensen, sixty-five, to call it quits in April. The entire brewery, equipment and all, is now on sale for $2.5 million. (Francisco Ramírez Pinedo)
In Memoriam: Carlos Rosas of Calumet Fisheries
An anchor befitting the eatery he worked for, Carlos Rosas died on July 20, 2020 at age forty-one due to the novel coronavirus. He began working at Calumet Fisheries in 1997 before becoming its manager. Owner and President of Calumet Fisheries Mark Kotlick called it an “unreplaceable loss.” During his tenure running the restaurant, it received awards from the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics category, received a place in Eater Chicago’s essential restaurants list, and a visit from Anthony Bourdain for his acclaimed TV show No Reservations. (All that, plus being named Best Taste of Antiquity in 2013 BoSS.) However, out of all its awards and accolades, the one many would credit Rosas for is the new 2019 category created by the Jean Banchet Awards for Best Counter Service. Often described as the fishhouse’s ambassador and its face, the Facebook post announcing his passing was filled with heartfelt sentiments and messages remembering him for his character and kindness. He quarantined himself after feeling ill and was then transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. It is there where he was put on a ventilator and succumbed to COVID-19. He is survived by his parents Eusebio and Maria, his sisters Esperanza and Sanjuana, and brothers Martin, Chevo, and Jaime. (Francisco Ramírez Pinedo)
In Memoriam: Overflow Coffee Bar and Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House
It was for reasons other than the pandemic, but two Black-run or owned coffee shops—of which there are just a handful in the city—closed their South Loop doors over the past year. In April 2019, Overflow Coffee (Best Place To Work—or Play—From Home, 2018 BoSS) left its space in the Daystar School building on State Street to make room for an expansion of the private school. That October, three blocks to the south, Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House (Best Sugar Rush, 2018 BoSS) decided not to renew its lease after finding the area to have too little foot traffic.
Both were remarkably distinctive and have been missed dearly, especially in a neighborhood without many natural meeting places (pre-COVID, of course). Overflow regularly featured local artists and musicians, all accompanying Metropolis coffee and baked goods made by its manager, Kari Pendleton, a South Side native. Overflow has been operated since 2018 by the small business development nonprofit Entrenuity, founded in 1999 by Austin resident and entrepreneur L. Brian Jenkins, and in its Daystar building location, had explored ways to make its facilities a resource to aspiring entrepreneurs. Akhirah’s, opened in 2016 by West Sider Arron Muhammad and his family, offset foot traffic issues for years by enticing its fans to come from all over the Chicagoland region to sample its New Orleans-style made-to-order beignets, variety of praline candies, and locally roasted coffee.
Since closing, both have been working towards reopening elsewhere. Overflow is staying put in the South Loop—something Pendleton told the Weekly was a goal for the Entrenuity team, and which became a reality when they toured a location in the former Vee-Jay Records building on Michigan Avenue’s old Record Row (Best Hidden History, 2017 BoSS) and knew it would be “the one.” (Entrenuity also expanded its coffee offerings in the city with the November 2019 purchase of the Common Cup in Rogers Park.)
In a phone interview, Muhammad said that he had been considering a location in Pullman for Akhirah’s to move to, but hadn’t committed to anything—and once COVID hit, he decided to play it safe and wait to see what will even be possible in a post-pandemic world. He laid out conditions that would need to be met: outdoor seating, parking, enough space inside for social distancing. Many former customers reach out to him, he said, to see when they can order beignets or pralines again, but he’s biding his time until everything is just right; Akhirah’s was subsidized by his longtime work as a personal trainer, and as the owner, he spent more time there than he would have preferred. Still, he said, “There was nothing like Akhirah’s,” and that’s true; the beignets were a steady part of my diet for the year I lived around the corner.
Both Muhammad and Pendleton have stressed the rarity of small businesses owned and run by Black people—particularly Black women, in Pendleton’s case—and the importance of supporting them. (There do remain two Black-owned or run coffee shops in the South Loop: Tea Pot Brew Bakery, Best Blueberry Scone in 2019 BoSS, and the café/coworking space Momentum, which opened in December 2019.) While neither Overflow nor Akhirah’s shuttered because of the pandemic, their closures, however temporary, drive home the small margins and difficult decisions that many small businesses have to contend with. Thankfully, there are still ways to support both. Akhirah’s is offering its signature blend from Stivers Coffee—another small local Black-owned business—for purchase on its website. (Unfortunately, made-to-order beignets just aren’t meant for online sales.) And Overflow is reopening in its new building on December 11, with a private event featuring local musicians and artists being livestreamed the night before. (Sam Stecklow)
Overflow Coffee, opening at 1449 S. Michigan Ave. on December 11. Hours TBD. overflowchicago.com
Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House coffee sold at akhirahs.com