Not that catchy

Great concept, poor theme for new restaurant

04/22/2009 12:00 PM

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Jim Andrews’ heart — and his money — are clearly in the right place.

The West Loop-based paper wholesaler hires ex-offenders at his primary business, saying he’s found no better workers. They’re grateful to have a second purchase on life with a decent job, according to Andrews, and he’s made helping the formerly incarcerated, and hiring them, a cause. Not enough business owners do.

Andrews is now in the final stages of gut rehabbing the former sandwich shop at Jackson and Western into a social enterprise business that will train ex-offenders and fund his non-profit, the Rescue Foundation.

The name of the new restaurant? Felony Franks. Which will be home of the “misdemeanor wiener” and “food so good its criminal” when it opens. The fast food restaurant will employ five to seven ex-offenders, and Andrews hopes to ultimately open up to 40 Felony Franks franchises around Chicago. He says the name struck him as catchy and marketable.

But it’s not that catchy.

The name unnecessarily dwells on criminal themes and it does so in a predominately black neighborhood that has struggled with more than its share of poor policing, gang-related troubles, drug dealing and felony convictions over the years.

A 2002 federal case, for example, detailed a massive drug trafficking operation at St. Stephen’s Terrace Apartments and the now-demolished Rockwell Gardens public housing complex. St. Stephen’s, which has its own big problems as readers of the front page story this week will know, is, of course, located directly south of Felony Franks. And just last week, a man shot at another person, hitting Best Practice High School, about three blocks east of the restaurant.

The name Felony Franks won’t inspire more crime or less, no more so than a story in a newspaper about a homicide will. A felony conviction, however, suggests tragedy — a victim damaged, a life behind bars, resources wasted.

Naming a restaurant after such an event is the wrong way to go.

The frustrating part about the name is it distracts from the real and tremendous challenges ex-offenders face when they return from downstate penitentiaries to Chicago neighborhoods, including the Near West Side. These men and women need training and jobs. Even at a fast food restaurant near Jackson and Western. We just don’t think the place needs to be named Felony Franks.

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