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Logan Square Kitchen To Close

By Anthony Todd in Food on May 16, 2012 8:20PM

2011_8_23LSK.jpg Logan Square Kitchen has been fighting the city since it opened. The mixed-use event/production space has been the incubator for some wonderful food artisans and the host of some memorable events, but arcane regulations and hostile city officials have finally killed it.

The first time LSK was up for destruction, it was because the city couldn't decide how to license them. Were they a restaurant, a special events space, or a production facility? Everyone seemed to agree that LSK was good and promoted small business growth, but because regulators couldn't figure out how to let the facility exist, the city's response was to try to close it. Murray finally won that fight, only to be inspected (seemingly) every 20 minutes in a search for something to cite them for. After the city inspected the kitchen nineteen times in two years, LSK finally complained officially.

The owner, Zina Murray, has finally thrown in the towel. In a statement released today, she explained, " LSK is collateral damage from choices that City employees make each day—people that have lost the ability to connect their actions with the consequences they cause." Licensing is taking too much effort and their resident artisans are unable to produce. The official closure is June 28th, and Murray's full statement is reproduced below.

Combined with the ongoing kerfluffle over food trucks, we hope (if nothing else) that this finally provokes some introspection on the part of our city council and mayor's office. When small businesses that help to enliven dead, blighted stretches of city streets are killed through over-regulation, the city is doing something very, very wrong.

Zina Murray's Statement

LSK is a shared commercial kitchen that small food businesses rent by the hour. Currently, about 20 active businesses use LSK as their production facility. All of them will need to find new kitchens in order to keep their businesses open. All clients will be able to continue to produce until June 28, 2012. We’ll be working to support our clients during this transition, and welcome any information about available Kitchens.

It’s a sad time when our government kills the very things that can heal our City. Logan Square Kitchen was designed to heal the local economy, environment and food system all at once. It was an innovative, bold idea that never had its chance. The Dept of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) began hammering nails in its coffin before we even opened our doors in 2009 and hasn’t stopped. Unfortunately, we see no end to regulatory burdens, which will continue to block our ability to grow a healthy business.

Over and over we heard, “you did everything right.” See the Alderman before building purchase. All City Depts approve us through Green Building Permit Program. Go to BACP in advance of applying for license, completely disclosing the business model. Spend 3 months talking about what licenses we needed. Apply as directed. Told we ‘misrepresented’ our business. Told we can’t have license caused we’ve failed our “furniture inspection.” Correct that, and get licenses contingent on conditions we can’t meet. Then the Zoning folks try to shut us down. 20 health inspections. 18 months wrapped in red tape. Enduring intimidation and harassment, the resources we set aside to ramp up the business were instead used to pay lawyers and our mortgage while we were denied the right to operate.

While our licensing difficulties are over, they are just beginning for our clients. Before the “helpful” Shared Kitchen Ordinance that took effect Sept 1, 2011, we got clients licensed in a week or two. Now it takes 1-3 months and multiple trips to City Hall. Unfortunately, Mayor Emmanuel’s new ‘streamlining’ of business license ordinance that passed last week does not offer any streamlining for shared kitchens.

It should come as no surprise that we must close. LSK is collateral damage from choices that City employees make each day—people that have lost the ability to connect their actions with the consequences they cause. In all the many, many meetings I’ve had in City Hall in the past three years, there’s a question no one ever asks. “Is it good for our City?”