Oak Park trustee closes restaurant on North Avenue

Deno Andrews' Felony Franks employed ex-offenders

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

It was a three-year run in Oak Park for Deno Andrews, but on Monday the Oak Park trustee announced he has closed Felony Franks, a fast-food restaurant on North Avenue known for hiring ex-offenders.

Reached by phone, Andrews said it is a "cautionary tale for not only our village but the county and the state and that when costs rise faster than markets can sustain them things like this happen."

Felony Franks, 6427 W. North, also is known for its distinct marketing strategy, using prison-related themes, with names like the Misdemeanor Wiener and Felony Fries.

Andrews announced the closure of the business on Facebook, noting that "property taxes, new labor laws and the cost of goods increased faster than the market was willing to pay for such increases."

In an effort to keep up with rising costs, Andrews had to raise prices, he said, which was too much of a burden for his customers.

Andrews said in an interview that two-thirds to three-quarters of his business was not from Oak Park and they are not in a position to have large increases in prices.

"We were faced with having to lower our standards in order to stay afloat. We did what we could, but I was just not behind any substantial lowering of standards for obvious reasons. Many customers noticed we went down a notch, mainly because we had to lower staffing hours," he said.

Andrews, who was elected to the Oak Park Board of Trustees earlier this year, continues his work with Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to encourage businesses to hire ex-offenders.

He was awarded a $50,000 grant in 2016 from the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation's Big Idea contest, which offers the grant annually for business ideas that provide a public service in the community.

Andrews said the grant is for 18 months and he has been working with small businesses and larger retailers in town to boost the idea of hiring ex-offenders.

He noted in his farewell letter on Facebook that Felony Franks has a zero recidivism rate with its employees.

"The city of Chicago has a 54 percent recidivism rate in the same time period. Creating jobs, sharing knowledge, and helping people who deserve a second chance really has an impact on our community," he said in his farewell letter.

Andrews also has been working on a community funded café project that would likely be located in the northeast area of Oak Park.

Andrews said in his farewell letter that he is considering his options for the future of Felony Franks.

"The restaurant business really needs a hands-on owner," he wrote, adding, "I would consider financing a sale of the business and/or equipment. We have a turn-key situation for someone who wants to hit the ground running. I believe the place could work if an owner was there more than I can be."

Meanwhile, Andrews said he has no shortage of things to do in the village.

"This will help me focus my attention on these existing projects and being successful as a trustee," he said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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Judith Alexander from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2017 5:25 PM

The North Avenue District, which I chair, is on record supporting more residential development on North Ave. Due partly to the Internet, there just isn't enough demand to fill all the retail and office space. And, as Bob says, more residential will provide more customers for businesses like Felony Frank's. But I wonder how familiar Bob really is with our district. There were not only more than 2 hot dog places in Oak Park. There are more than 2 on North Ave. alone. A's Redhots is a block east of Felony Frank's at 6317 W. North in Oak Park. Michael's Beef House (beautifully remodeled under new management) is at the southeast corner of North and Oak Park Ave. Dog Day Afternoon is opening a few blocks west at 6939 W. North. Fast food-type places tend to do well in the district. J&J's Fish is 2 doors west of A's Redhots and has been in the North/Ridgeland strip mall for years. So has China Chop Suey, right next to Felony Franks. So has Buona Beef, 7025 W. North. And there are several successful fast food locations on the Chicago side. I could go on, but you get my point. Restaurants succeed here when they figure out how to appeal to local residents AND capitalize on the traffic volume Deno had some great ideas to promote Felony Franks and other North Ave. restaurants. But he just didn't have time. He put his duties as a trustee and charitable organization CEO first. Having said all that, I share the concern of Tom, Bob and Bruce regarding the sharp increase in costs of doing business in Oak Park. I've been worried about small business closings here ever since the new minimum wage ordinance passed and property taxes went up so much. Such closings are a risk I think many passionate backers of the ordinance did not fully appreciate. Bob is right about Oak Park's attractions, but I think one-of-a-kind small businesses are an attraction, too. The kind of people who live here and move here do not want a town where the only businesses are local branches of giant chains.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 11:55 PM

I agree Tom. And Mr. Andrews I am sure knew as well, but was too intimidated to speak up during the minimum wage debate. Now his former employees have a minimum wage of zero as you so aptly point out.

Bob Stokes  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 10:43 PM

Went to the Mayor of Oak Park's restaurant a few times. My rather uneven experiences made me note how much easier it is to run a village than a restaurant. Fewer details and lower expectations from the customers. Guess that same observation applies here. I cannot imagine how many hot dogs one has to sell to pay rent/mortgage, wages and taxes in OP. Seemed doomed from the jump. The town's other hot dog restaurant was curiously owned by the Village and also failed -- in a superior location -- only to be replaced by a fancy stack of 800k condos. Much of the retail along North Avenue needs to be repurposed similarly to mixed use residential. to support remaining retail. Clearly, people do not choose Oak Park because of the parking-flush brick and mortar hot dog stands, they move here because of the schools, the El, the downtown, the parks, etc. This seems more of a failure of land use planning and market mismatch than small business unfriendly policies (although the ones around here cannot help!). Perhaps engage the returning citizens in a higher value added, healthier enterprise?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 2:57 PM

It is hard to have a business in a town where the mob decides what the hourly wage is instead of the economy. Now the hourly wages will be zero. Well done mob.

Frank Patterson from oak park  

Posted: November 6th, 2017 2:03 PM

this was an innovative idea and he deserves praise for trying to make a difference

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