Jon Gray and Brie with his handmade sign. (Mario Garcia)
After a three-year dispute between Alex Lazarevski, the owner of Express Grill, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), businesses and residents in East Pilsen, the polish sausage shop Express Grill has finally opened in front of a bus stop on 18th and Halsted streets.
“It’s a terrible idea and especially at this corner,” said Jason B., a rock musician who lives across the street from the grill. “I’d rather have a Starbucks, and I don’t even want a Starbucks.”
Neighborhood residents have been concerned about the added congestion that the placement of the all-night stand will bring, along with the possible crime, littering and the “strong, horrible smell of the onions,” according to Jason B..
When the plans for the grill were first introduced three years ago, residents and business owners banded together to pressure Solis to put a hold on the Express Grill’s business license application. In particular, the death of a young woman, Martha Gonzalez, while crossing the street at 18th and Halsted fanned the flames of the conflict around the already congested intersection. The street 17th Place has recently been renamed in honor of Gonzalez.
The case went to court, and Cook County Judge Nancy Arnold ruled in April that Lazarevski had secured the appropriate building permits and would be allowed to open his restaurant. The hot dog joint was one of the original Maxwell Street stands, and is now operating near Roosevelt and Union.
Jon Gray, a long-time Pilsen resident who also lives across the street from the newly opened Express Grill, said that he sees what kind of activity goes on at Lazarevski’s other grill, that “customers eat their food and throw trash out the window, play radios … I counted cars over there several times and there are never less than 20.”
To protest the Express Grill, Gray put a sign — “Boycott Express Grill” — up in the empty, grassy lot owned by his stepfather next door to the hot dog shop. To make it authentic, Gray has taken pains to replace the Express Grill sign exactly. There is smudged paint where it’s smudged on the large sign, and blue tape. But the similarity ends there — as the Express Grill’s sign become operational, Gray said his was vandalized. He is still seething.