The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Logan's Boozy Taco Bell: Wicker Park In The Making Or Needed Cheap Eats?

By Mina Bloom | August 15, 2017 5:38am
 A rendering of the proposed restaurant at 2432. N. Milwaukee Ave.
A rendering of the proposed restaurant at 2432. N. Milwaukee Ave.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

LOGAN SQUARE — A proposal to open a boozy Taco Bell on a changing stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square is drawing mixed reactions from neighbors, with some concerned its entry could help turn the neighborhood into "Wicker Park North" and others welcoming the affordable grub.

The national chain wants to open the Taco Bell Cantina at 2432 N. Milwaukee Ave. Like the Wicker Park outpost, which opened in 2015, the sit-down restaurant would serve a full food menu plus boozy slushies, beer and sangria in a trendier environment than your typical drive-through Taco Bell.

Taco Bell representatives and their attorney Mara Georges pitched fewer than 15 neighbors, including six members of the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association, on the proposal Monday evening at Haas Park field house, 2402 N. Washtenaw Ave.

RELATED: Logan Square Could Be Getting Its Own Boozy Taco Bell

Plans were met with skepticism by Jill Brady, a longtime neighbor and member of Logan Square Preservation who lives within 250 feet of the proposed restaurant.

"My concerns [are] late-night noise, the alcohol being served, the litter and the overall safety," said Brady, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2003.

If approved, the Logan Square restaurant would be led by Neil Borkan, a prolific Taco Bell franchisee with at least 34 stores. Borkan's Lincolnshire-based firm, NJB Operations, also runs the Wicker Park restaurant.

"I understand you live there. We don't want drunks walking all around," Borkan said. "We're not serving someone if they're intoxicated. Honestly, I have to be able to walk down the street and be OK with it. Feel free to talk to anyone in Wicker Park. I think we're a pretty good neighbor."

Borkan said the Logan Square restaurant would stop serving booze at 1 a.m. weekends and at midnight weeknights, earlier than closing time, which is proposed for 2 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Georges, who works for the law firm Daley & Georges, emphasized Borkan's point, saying Wicker Park neighbors had "the same kind of concerns at first."

"Frankly, none of those have borne out. People have been very pleased," she said.

Borkan stressed that food is the main draw at the Taco Bell Cantina — not alcohol, which he said only accounts for 10 percent of total sales at the cantina.

Taco Bell representatives pitched 14 neighbors at the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association's zoning meeting Monday evening. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

Unlike the Wicker Park outpost, the Logan Square restaurant would have garage doors facing Milwaukee Avenue that would remain open during warm months to give it an open-air feel. But just about everything else at the Logan Square cantina, from the menus to the decor, would mimic the Wicker Park location.

Other neighbors who attended the meeting voiced support for the proposal.

"I'm in favor of having diverse food choices for the neighborhood, particularly at the lower price points," said John Foote, who lives about a half mile away from the proposed restaurant.

That opinion was shared by Paul Christianson, a member of the neighborhood association who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years.

"When you consider all of the bars over there, it's a good thing probably. It's a place to get something to eat," he said. "I used to be young. You always want to get something to eat after you're drinking. That would be a plus."

But Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, doesn't see it that way.

In a prepared statement, Schneider accused Ald.  Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes the site, of turning the neighborhood into "Wicker Park North," referring to all the national chains that have landed in the gentrified neighborhood in recent years.

"This block used to be home to a locally-owned taqueria, a jewelry store and other businesses," Schneider said of the 2400 block of North Milwaukee Avenue.

"Today it looks and feels like a Wicker Park alderman is trying to turn Logan Square into Wicker Park North."

Schneider, who lives within a few blocks of the proposed restaurant, also took issue with the way Moreno gathers community input on a project, which he called "disappointing."

Moreno asked the neighborhood association to do a "courtesy review" of the boozy Taco Bell proposal even though the site isn't under the neighborhood group's jurisdiction, which troubled Schneider.

He said when he reached out to Moreno's office to schedule a community meeting with Logan Square Preservation after news of the proposal broke last week, a Moreno staffer told him to attend the neighborhood association meeting. Schneider said it wasn't enough notice for him and many of his fellow group members to attend.

Moreno's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

"It’s really just one more example of the bizarre choreography of the so-called public process in the 1st Ward," Schneider wrote.