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Knockbox Cafe, Peanut Gallery Closing As Humboldt Intersection Booms

By Darryl Holliday | June 26, 2014 8:31am
  KnockBox owner Jonah Shalack says, "I'm not a victim."
KnockBox owner Jonah Shalack says, "I'm not a victim."
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

HUMBOLDT PARK — An entire Humboldt Park intersection rapidly changing under the direction of one owner will take another turn this fall as two small businesses on the block shutter their storefronts.

Owners of Knockbox Café and Peanut Gallery said their lease would not be renewed in October and both would close at their current locations. The two storefronts sit on the northeast and northwest ends of California Avenue and Augusta Boulevard, an intersection that one of the city’s top restaurateurs wants to make over.

KnockBox owner Jonah Shalack and his wife opened their cafe about four years ago, he said, and for a while his storefront was one of a few on the block. The couple live in the neighborhood, near their Humboldt Park café, but Shalack said he wasn’t yet sure what their future holds after Knockbox closes for good Sept. 28.

“We have no plans of reopening another business. I did it for nearly five years and when the neighborhood finally comes around we get shut down,” he said. “It was our plan to be here for the long term. We lived and survived off this business, so it’s not like we weren’t putting in our time.”

Like the co-owners of Peanut Gallery — Charlie Megna and Kelly Reaves — Shalack said the area’s growing popularity was part of the reason the leases weren’t renewed. Landlord Gio Battaglia, who is working with star restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, "can get twice as much for [the spaces],” said Reaves. 

Megna said the 4-year-old Peanut Gallery "won't be closing" but that "we are going to have to relocate and figure out a new game plan."

"Our lease is up in October so we have started trying to figure things out now,” said Megna, a former California Clipper employee.

The collective will be begin raising funds for a new art studio near Humboldt Park, the neighborhood where several members of Peanut Gallery live and work.

But while the intersection develops and values rise, Shalack said he didn’t place any blame on Battaglia, the man who initially drew Shalack into the location with his vision for growth and neighborhood solidarity.

“I’m not a victim, I’ll never see it that way. We were trying to be part of the Humboldt Park renaissance," Shalack said. "But some days you are the pigeon, some days you are the statue — this is my statue moment.”

In the meantime, he and his wife will start looking for jobs outside of owning their own small business — one successful café “built from scratch” and slated for closure was enough, he said.

He described the first two years running Knockbox as a struggle, but said it recently began turning a regular profit and he was enjoying its reputation as a reliable neighborhood café. The couple was planning to buy a house, he added.

“I guarantee I won't do it again,” he said. “Nothing wrong was done. There’s nothing wrong that happened, so what can I get mad about? But I figured we were going be here for a long time … and at this point I don’t even know if I’ll be staying in Chicago.”

“I’m a big boy, and I can take my licks,” he added. “It’s a business — I get it.”

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