CHICAGO — A restaurant group plans to open a Taco Bell restaurant on the border of two of Chicago's largest majority-Latino neighborhoods.
Western Bell Inc. plans to open a Taco Bell restaurant at West 24th Street and South Western Avenue on the border of Pilsen and Little Village, two predominantly Mexican-American neighborhoods, after a zoning change was approved by the City Council last week, confirmed 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis. The site was previously zoned for residential use, according to city documents.
The restaurant group plans to build a 2,053-square-foot one-story restaurant with a drive-thru lane and 20 parking spaces at the vacant site, 2400-2412 S. Western Ave., zoning records show.
But in a neighborhood known for its authentic Mexican restaurants, the move to rezone the site for a Tex-Mex fast food chain is "slapping the local Hispanic flavor in the face," said neighbor Aaron Pylinski, who lives close to the site.
The zoning change "doesn't make any sense," he said.
"Why would you put a Taco Bell in a neighborhood known for its authentic Mexican restaurants?" said Pylinski, who has lived in the neighborhood with his family off and on since 2000. "It's not real Mexican, and it's an insult to the authentic Mexican restaurants in this neighborhood."
Rolando Almaraz, who has owned nearby Taqueria Tayahua at 2411 S. Western Ave. for the last 23 years, said he is concerned about the late-night crowd a Taco Bell could bring to the stretch of Western. Pylinski also worries the late-night drive-thru could attract a loud and rowdy crowd to the neighborhood.
Almaraz said he isn't worried the Taco Bell will hurt his business — Taco Bell doesn't serve the same authentic fare as his taqueria — but he doesn't believe the restaurant will "fit in" with the character of the immediate neighborhood. In addition to Mexican staples, the area — part of Heart of Italy — is home to legacy Italian restaurants, including Il Vicinato Ristorante and Bruna's Ristorante.
Instead of clearing the way for new chain restaurants to open, Almaraz said he wants the city to focus on building up small, family-owned businesses like his.
"Pilsen is changing, I know. I get it. But there are other options that are out there," Alamaraz said. "A business like that tears down the feeling of the neighborhood."
Taqueria Tayahua is open until 11 p.m. during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends. Existing Taco Bell locations in the city close between Midnight and 5 a.m.
James Spyropoulos, a Realtor with Devon Realty, the firm that owns the site, said the restaurant group is still working to land permits before construction begins on the restaurant. The site has been vacant for five years.
Devon Realty has not fielded complaints on plans for the site, but one nearby company owner expressed excitement that a Taco Bell was opening, Spyropoulos said Wednesday. The restaurant group, which has a long-term lease on the site, determined a Taco Bell would work at that location, he said.
"We're just a landlord," Spyropoulos said.
Free market rules
In approving the zoning change, Pylinski said Solis, who also chairs the city's Committee on Zoning, prioritized "progress over neighborhood pride."
"Put that stuff out in the suburbs," Pylinski said of the fast food restaurant.
Solis said he was surprised that a Taco Bell restaurant aimed to open in Pilsen.
"I said, 'Are you sure you'll be able to get business here in a Mexican neighborhood?" said Solis, who is Mexican-American.
But the veteran alderman said he will let the free market dictate the restaurant's success on the Western corridor, and ultimately signed off on the zoning change. Pilsen has other fast food restaurants, including a McDonald's, Subway and Dunkin Donuts.
And more chain restaurants, including local chains, appear to be coming to the neighborhood. A Giardano's location opened on 18th Street in 2015 and a Gino's East location with a Mexican inspired menu opened on 21st Street in 2016.
"I don't know how successful it will be," Solis said of the Taco Bell. "But [the operator] still should have the opportunity to see what kind of business he can do."
Byron Sigcho, executive director of Pilsen Alliance, said the group is drafting a petition to oppose the new Taco Bell location.
"To favor a corporate chain when you have small businesses that are struggling is concerning," he said.
The new Taco Bell location is planned as residents grow increasingly concerned they are getting priced out of Pilsen, a historic port of entry for Mexican immigrants.
Afzal Lokhandwala, president or Western Bell Inc., could not be reached Tuesday.
Rolando Acosta, a zoning attorney who represented Lokhandwala on the zoning change, did not respond to a request for comment.