The Fights Over The New S.K.Y. Restaurant In Pilsen Are Getting Intense
By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 31, 2017 8:22PM
Future site of SKY at 1239 W. 18th St.
A while back, I shared the news that one of my favorite chefs, Stephen Gillanders (formerly of Intro) was starting his own place, with the slightly silly name of S.K.Y. The restaurant, which is set to open on Nov. 17, has become the subject of a ton of protest activity, and it's not quite clear how this mess will end.
DNAinfo has spent a lot of time covering this story in great detail, but here's the brief outline: Last week, anti-gentrification activists (some of whom reportedly were from Los Angeles) held a protest outside the as-yet-unopened restaurant. The stated concerns were not new: A fancy restaurant might contribute to rising rent prices, this type of business pushed out people of color and long-time residents, etc.
When the business attempted to respond to these complaints by pointing out their planned charitable and community work, as well as their accessible pricing and the fact that their chef was a person of color, activists mocked them pretty hard. DNAinfo also reported that the building was vacant and condemned prior to the restaurant moving in.
It's worth noting that Michelin-starred Dusek's is across the street and new, acclaimed HaiSous is right down the street, so S.K.Y. isn't exactly appearing out of nowhere to transform the neighborhood. On the other hand, continued development in Pilsen has been a subject of controversy for quite a while—though what the solution is isn't clear. Should development (which also provides jobs) be entirely halted? Or perhaps only certain sorts of businesses should be "allowed" to open—though exactly how that's done isn't clear either.
Responses from the food world have been interesting. Michael Gebert in Fooditor responded thusly:
A part-Filipino chef with fine dining experience plans to open (with his Korean wife) a casual-upscale place, entrees under $30, in the vicinity of HaiSous and Dusek’s along 18th street in Pilsen, in the empty space of a long-closed clinic. Is this 1) a nice addition to the neighborhood providing jobs for locals, or 2) You’re Hitler? If you were the activists (some apparently from LA) protesting Stephen Gillanders’ S.K.Y. during a friends and family dinner last week, the only possible answer is #2...Dead Czech-American residents of the now largely Latino neighborhood who sold their property to John Podmajersky in the 1980s could not be reached for comment.
Peter Frost, formerly of Crain's also weighed in on Twitter with a long thread. .
1) "You've inserted yourself into a community that doesn't want you, without talking to us first."— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
Q1) Are all who wish to do biz in Pilsen supposed to have your L.A. cell phone numbers? This is pathetic.— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
2) Is cursing out diners and restaurant workers going to turn people to your side?— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
3) If you're going to protest and disrupt, unmask yourself. If you're going to be an asshole, own it. Don't hide behind a red bandanna.— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
4) Gentrification is real, and this is a real issue for Pilsen or any other near-downtown neighborhood, and folks will get priced out.— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
5) And that, indeed, is sad. And I completely understand the anger and sadness. But to pretend that being confrontational is the only ...— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
potential remedy is dishonest. At best.— Peter Frost (@peterfrost) October 30, 2017
Demonstrators continue to make noise, and in a fickle restaurant environment with a ton of closings, having masked people outside your new restaurant shouting for a few weeks at opening is definitely not going to help business. At the same time, if S.K.Y. calls the cops, they'll surely be yelled at for suppressing the local voices opposing gentrification. And it's not entirely fair to pick on this one restaurant, given the number of upscale places that have opened in rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods.
We'll keep an eye on thing as it gets closer to the 17th.