Residents of Evanston’s 2nd Ward objected to the flavor of a potential new hot dog stand during a community meeting Thursday evening.
No one objected to the mission of Felony Franks, which hires ex-offenders and says it will begin a new program to train employees for future jobs. The common theme was the often controversial use of crime- and jail-related names for menu items such as “Misdemeanor Wiener” and “Probation Burger.”
“The argument across the board is not about the effort. The argument is about the name,” said Clarence Weaver, who said he recently changed his business’ name to allow it to grow in new avenues. “The marketing is what gets in the way of a very, very good effort.”
Felony Franks owner Jim Andrews told the residents that the name provides a well-known branding to the venture. His goal provided jobs to ex-offenders, particularly targeting those between the ages of 16 and 25, who often have a hard time finding employment. He also wants to provide legal counseling and other efforts to help them turn their lives around.
“We’re not only interested in selling hot dogs and hamburgers and french fries,” Andrews told the group about 30 people. “We’re interested in ‘regentrification’ of human beings. Rebuilding lives. Putting people back with their families and making communities better places to live.”
But the question often posed, but never directly addressed, was why the restaurant uses such a playful theme built around the nature of crime. It’s logo depicts a smiling hot dog and the slogan “Food so good it’s criminal.”
Asa Gezelius said the 2nd Ward is often seen as a high-crime area, and the stigma is difficult to reverse.
Having a hot dog stand like Felony Franks “feeds into that perception that we are so very much trying to rid ourselves of,” Gezelius said.
Larry Musgrave, Andrews’ partner, said the reaction from the group hasn’t dissuaded them from pursuing an Evanston location. But he also said western suburbs like such as Cicero, Forest Park and Elmhurst have expressed interest in the establishment, like Evanston did last month when Felony Franks closed after three years on Chicago’s West Side.
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