Thursday, October 15, 2020

Kenny Johnson - Owner of Bureau Bar + Restaurant - Demands More Than Allyship from His Industry

Eater Chicago has an informative write-up on Kenny Johnson and the challenges he's faced as a Black entrepreneur in the city.  The article headline says it all "A Black Chicago Bar Owner Demands More Than Performative Allyship From His Industry".  

As a reminder, Kenny just opened up the Bureau Bar + Restaurant (2115 S. State) and also owns 16th Street Bar (formerly called Bureau Bar at 75 E. 16th).  We know Kenny had issues opening up on 16th street and he outlines it well here:

Most operators expect hurdles when opening a bar: financial constraints or trouble finding and keeping staff are typical. But in the process of Johnson opening his first tavern, 16th Street Bar, he encountered a stunning barrier. While much attention was paid toward downtown businesses impacted by looting over the summer, a great many locally owned and operated small businesses were damaged across the entire city. Johnson’s bar is included in the tally. In an Instagram post, Johnson talks about the damage to his bar and goes on to describe how a white neighbor in the bar’s building essentially halted its very opening several years ago. “[The neighbor] had never met me and never been in the place, but they literally wrote a letter [to the city] saying ‘they’re going to have gang activity, they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that,’ because I am Black,” Johnson tells Eater. “They stopped us for nine months. I had to appeal it, I had to get lawyers involved. It was a whole mess just because they only saw the color of my skin.” As it turns out, there’s a precedent of neighbors — residents and business owners — tactically weaponizing city bureaucracy and leveraging gatekeepers to keep Black-owned establishments from opening in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The article also talks about the new restaurant's vibe and we also found out that Kenny has a stake in the Sage room (67 e. Cermak) just around the corner.  Needless to say, he's heavily invested in the neighborhood and glad to hear his perspective and advocacy.  Hopefully it continues to get the oxygen it deserves and real change comes about. 

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