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Embattled Sawtooth Restaurant-Lounge Getting Evicted, Officials Say

By Stephanie Lulay | March 31, 2015 8:54am | Updated on March 31, 2015 8:56am
 Roger Romanelli (top), executive director of the Randolph Fulton Market Association, and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (bottom) said the owner of the building Sawtooth rents plans to kick the out the restaurant-lounge.
Roger Romanelli (top), executive director of the Randolph Fulton Market Association, and Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (bottom) said the owner of the building Sawtooth rents plans to kick the out the restaurant-lounge.
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WEST LOOP — The troubled Sawtooth Restaurant and Lounge in the West Loop is facing eviction and city attempts to revoke its liquor license, it was confirmed Monday.

Early Saturday, a 29-year-old man was critically injured in a shooting near Sawtooth at 1350 W. Randolph St. The shooting near the restaurant-lounge was the latest in a series of incidents which prompted a neighborhood meeting in January.

According to documents obtained by DNAinfo Chicago, the owner of the building is seeking to immediately evict Sawtooth. The move comes as the city's Legal Department is also working to take away the restaurant-lounge's liquor license, city officials said.

In the wake of the shooting and looming eviction, Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph Fulton Market Association, called on the city to immediately revoke Sawtooth's business license.

"They do not have a lease," Romanelli said in an e-mail to Liquor Commissioner Greg Steadman on Monday night. "Our community cannot allow one more day of this business."

Stephanie Lulay discussed the situation with the Ald. Burnett:

About 1:50 a.m. Saturday, a man was standing in the 1300 block of West Randolph Street when he heard shots and felt pain, police said. The shots were fired near the front of Sawtooth, a source confirmed.

The man was shot in his thigh, back and left elbow and was driven to to Rush Hospital by an acquaintance. The victim later was transferred to Stroger Hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

On Monday afternoon, police did not have any suspects in custody in the case and had no update on the victim's condition, according to Officer Thomas Sweeney, a Chicago Police Department spokesman.

According to social media posts, Sawtooth closed Saturday night but reopened Sunday evening.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said Monday that he had warned Sawtooth owners they would be shut down if violence continued on the block. Sawtooth holds a restaurant liquor license, not a tavern license, Burnett confirmed.

"I told them, 'You're not a bar. You shouldn't be looking like a bar,'" the alderman said. "There shouldn't be a DJ on the first floor, a bouncer at the door."

City lawsuits

The building owner's legal attempt to evict Sawtooth comes as the city is working to prosecute Sawtooth's owners in a license discipline case. Alleged violations against owners of the club include subterfuge, illegal expansion and a illegally operating a restaurant as a tavern, said John Holden, spokesman for the city's Law Department.

In housing court, Sawtooth is facing building code violation charges, Holden said. In that case, Sawtooth is prohibited from using the building's third floor and is not supposed to have any events beyond those on a scheduled list owners previously provide to the city.

Holden said the club's first court date in the license case was Feb. 24 and will next be in court April 14. On the building code violations, Sawtooth was first in court Feb. 26 and will next be in court April 9.

Landlord wants Sawtooth out

In a Feb. 27 letter, attorney Kevin Neiland said Sawtooth's five-year lease expired Nov. 30. Acting on behalf of the landlord, Neiland demanded Sawtooth owners leave the building immediately.

"The property is being sold and the new owner will require immediate possession of the property," Neiland wrote. According to state business records and Cook County property records, the building is owned by George Lagios.

The letter was addressed to Rana Mack, who, according to state business records, is the owner of Sawtooth Restaurant LLC, and attorney Harlan Powell. Reached via phone Monday, Powell would not confirm he was representing Mack or other Sawtooth owners.

The owner/operator of Sawtooth remains a mystery, Romanelli said.

On Monday, city officials said that Dzuy Dao is the owner of Sawtooth Restaurant LLC and holds the liquor license for the business. The license was issued May 5, 2010.

But state records show that as of December 2014, Sawtooth was owned by Mack.

Mack and Dao did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Besides the sale, Lagios had another reason to kick Sawtooth owners out of the building. Documents show attorneys acting on behalf of Lagios allege the tenant violated the lease's public nuisance clause. Lagios' attorney also argues that the business was operating without "all necessary permits or licenses" required by the city.

According to documents, the building's owner first warned Sawtooth owners in writing in September that they were violating the clauses.

The owners operating without a valid lease is "outrageous," Romanelli said.

"They have no lease and no promise of a future lease. They should be tossed out immediately," he said. 

Romanelli and Burnett said they did not have details about the building's impending sale. Cook County property records show the building is still owned by Lagios.

Neighbors 'within gunshot range'

Even before the weekend, neighbors had called on Burnett to close Sawtooth. They contend social media and other evidence shows that the restaurant/lounge is working as an undercover nightclub despite its liquor license, which limits the amount of liquor Sawtooth can sell as a restaurant.

In January, the Randolph Fulton Market Association held a meeting to address concerns about crime in the 1300 block of West Randolph Street. On Monday, Romanelli said the neighborhood has "zero tolerance" for crime.

"We can not tolerate one more day of violence here at Sawtooth," Romanelli said. "They are supposed to be serving food, not serving violence."

Michael Roberts, who co-owns Prairie Production, a photography studio and private event venue at 1314 W. Randolph St., said promoters that Sawtooth owners use to pack the lounge are a big part of the problem.

"Anytime a restaurant fails, they will be approached by promoters who want to use their space and liquor license for events," he said.

While Roberts said that he is not personally affected by the restaurant/lounge's "behavior" — Roberts' wedding guests have left by 12:30 a.m. and he's in bed by 2 a.m. when problems typically happen — he worries about the impact on the entire neighborhood, including nearby condo buildings.

Neighbors "across the street and living at the corner of Ada and Randolph, I see them as being in grave danger," he said. "They are within gunshot range."

In the last two years, two other shootings near Sawtooth have made headlines.

Around 1:25 a.m. Dec. 28, someone shot a 35-year-old man walking in the 1300 block of West Randolph Street and two men opened fire, striking him in his left thigh, according to police.

In March 2013, a 26-year-old man was shot in his leg in an early morning shooting outside Sawtooth. More than two dozen police cars responded to the shooting because of a fight that reportedly broke out about the same time.

Near West Side Police Cmdr. Melissa Staples did not return calls Monday.

In a statement Monday, leaders of the West Loop Community Organization urged the city to investigate the "violent criminal incident" that occurred near Sawtooth over the weekend.

"This was not the first shooting at this location, and we fear it won't be the last," the statement read. "We are committed to working closely with law enforcement and business licensing agencies in order to keep our community safe."

Burnett said he loves to see ward businesses doing well, but he would not support Sawtooth "at the expense of them endangering themselves and other people."

"If the community goes against [Sawtooth], I have to stand with the community," Burnett said.

Earlier this month, two men died and another man was wounded in shootings after a fight in Dolphin nightclub in Bucktown spilled into the street. The violent episode prompted the city to bring a new case to court in an attempt to close the club.

Two high-profile shootings near Funky Buddha Lounge in November prompted neighbors to call for the longtime River West bar to close. In February, Burnett confirmed the bar had closed for good.

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