Proposed hot dog stand name raises controversy
July 3, 2009
Felony Frank’s owner Jim Andrews has been waiting for aldermanic approval for his sign. Despite controversy over his business’ name, Andrews plans on employing people from the neighborhood and people from rehabilitation training services in Chicago. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)

By Amy Rothblatt | July 2009

The West Haven neighborhood is sizzling over Oak Park entrepreneur Jim Andrews’s plan to open a hot dog stand at the corner of Western Avenue and Jackson Boulevard. Normally, neighbors would view a new business as a welcome addition, but the 63-year-old Andrews wants to name his brainchild Felony Franks.

In addition, Andrews, who has been planning to open the hot dog stand for the past two-and-a-half years, has long employed ex-felons in his other businesses, including his paper company located on Randolph Street.

He intends to hire primarily rehabilitated ex-offenders at Felony Franks because “they have paid their debt to society and deserve a second chance. They have bettered their lives and are doing the right things today to make something of themselves. They work hard, they do a good job, and they deserve a second chance, as do all ex-offenders.”

He believes the tongue-incheek name Felony Franks “will help to erase some of the stigma that being a former convict carries.”

Alderman disapproves

Second Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti strongly disapproves of the prison theme and the large sign Andrews wants to hang over the restaurant, which features two cartoon hot dogs in striped prison garb behind bars.

“Most residents I talk to would fully support a food service business with a proper name and theme,” Fioretti explained, that with the currently planned name, “the police don’t want it, the churches don’t want it, and the schools don’t want it.”

Besides the image on the sign, which Fioretti thinks is “in poor taste in a neighborhood that’s been blighted by crime,” he objects to the restaurant’s slogan: “Food so good, it’s criminal,” calling it exploitation of the worker.

“What are we glorifying here?” he asked. “Are we glorifying the reentry programs for ex-offenders to help them get back their worth and self-confidence, or are we glorifying the crime?” The name “gives the wrong impression to our young people, and we should be doing everything we can to help them, not glorify crime. After all, the name doesn’t say Freedom Franks or Second Chance Dogs. I believe that that would sound more positive because it sounds like it’s offering help to individuals.”

Fioretti noted the location sits fewer than 100 feet from the site where Ruben Ivy, an 18-year-old Crane High School student, was killed in March 2008. Last year alone, he said, “there were almost 800 ‘index’ crimes reported in the area: murders, felonies, burglaries, and sexual assaults.”

Andrews stated that, because his location is across the street from Crane High School and Phoenix Marine Military Academy, he will not employ ex-sex offenders at Felony Franks.

Alderman promotes programs

Fioretti stressed his opposition to the hot dog stand’s proposed name is not opposition to ex-offenders working in the community.

“I fully support programs and employment for ex-offenders and understand their place in our community,” he said. “I have helped promote funding for individuals coming into rehabilitation programs. The largest number of re-entry people [who] come from prison to settle back in society are on the West and South Sides—therefore, in our community here. In three years, 51% of ex-offenders are back in prison because of the failure of our criminal justice system. We don’t offer enough resources toward training, education, job placement, or the healthcare of ex-offenders. I have been trying to find TIF programs for ex-offenders and other re-entry programs, to find a way to integrate them into the society here.”

Concerning the restaurant’s name, Andrews told the Gazette, “it’s a great name. There is nothing wrong with the concept.”

That concept includes Andrews’s commitment to hire ex-offenders.

“President Barack Obama says that we need to get more creative in our country, that we need to be part of the solution in our society, which I am trying to do,” he said. “See, I go one step beyond,” Andrews continued. “Bob Fioretti gives money to organizations to help ex-offenders find jobs. I am creating jobs.”

He feels his hot dog restaurant “will give the ex-offender men and women who will be working there a great education in entrepreneurship and a great opportunity to change their lives. That is more important than the hog dogs we are selling, although we are going to have good food,” he said.

Andrews hopes to open Felony Franks soon.

“Nobody is stopping him from opening it, so long as he has the proper licenses,” Fioretti said, adding, “Let’s face facts. It is a name that represents criminal activity. Every item on the menu has some reference to criminal activity.”

Felony Franks partner and Chief Operating Officer Jerry Tassos talks about a few of the menu items with crime or jail-related names. (Photo by Troy T Heinzeroth)

Prison-themed food

Andrews is planning food items called the “felony frank,” “misdemeanor wiener,” the “pardon burger,” “chain gang chili,” “burglar beef,” and a chicken sandwich called “jailbird on a bun.”

Fioretti said any individual has “the right to open up a hot dog stand there if you meet all of the zoning and licensing requirements, but you do not get the sign.”

The sign would require aldermanic approval. “I will do my best to block approval of the Felony Franks sign,” Fioretti said.

Andrews said he is committed to high standards and quality for his restaurant.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “It’s going to be a class A hot dog and fast food stand and there’s going to be nothing here that anybody should have to worry about concerning getting food from an ex-felon.”

The location’s Congressman, Danny K. Davis, has been a proponent of businesses hiring ex-offenders. “You know, I think it is a good idea to try to provide the opportunity for work in the community,” Davis said. “But the alderman is the elected person with the responsibility to make some decisions about that community, and certainly he is within his right to have his position. Now, would I have taken the same position? I don’t really know. It’s one thing to speculate and project, but it is different from being there.

“If it had been up to me, I would have gone around the community asking people what they thought, had a couple of meetings, and whatever the people would’ve come up with, that’s what I would’ve done. Because that’s the way I handled zoning issues when I was an alderman. But I have no problem with Alderman Fioretti’s position, or how he handled it. I have a wonderful relationship with Alderman Fioretti,” Davis said.

He does differ with Fioretti on the name Felony Franks, however.

“I don’t think having the name would hurt, not really,” Davis concluded. “I don’t think so — no.”

Agreeing with alderman

St. Leonard’s Ministries, which is located a few blocks away at 2100 W. Warren Blvd., assists exfelons in transitioning to successful, independent living.

Bob Dougherty, executive director at St. Leonard’s, seconded Fioretti’s objections to the hot dog restaurant’s sign and name.

“We don’t agree with [the name],” said Dougherty. “However, I know for a fact that Jim Andrews is well intentioned and committed to giving formerly incarcerated men and women a second chance.

“All of us at St. Leonard’s Ministries would discourage the pandering to corrections terminology and imagery of the restaurant, specifically related to the use of prison terms in their theme; however, somebody opening a restaurant in the community is good,” Dougherty said, noting Andrews “has put money into it and is doing what any good, responsible businessman would do. But we object to the interjection of prison terminology and imagery in what would otherwise be a fine venture.”

“Having been the executive director of St. Leonard’s for 22 years, I appreciate his efforts and introducing business into the community. I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go here, and I do think that what he is trying to do is a great idea. ‘Jim’s Franks’ would have been a great name,” however,” Dougherty concluded.

Andrews is waiting for Felony Franks to undergo a City health inspection. “We hope to be open very shortly,” he concluded.

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