The owners of 5 Rabbit Cerveceria plan to open their Pilsen small-batch brewery and full-service restaurant by early fall. The project, announced in 2018, has been delayed as ownership looked for more funding while refining the project. They’ve turned to crowdfunding and want to raise $300,000. The project is one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year.
The company, founded in 2011, is one of a handful of Latino-owned beer makers in Chicago. It has a 25,000-square-foot brewery with a taproom in suburban Bedford Park. Owners call it “the first U.S.-based, Latin American-inspired brewery.” 5 Rabbit co-founder Mila Ramirez (who is Peruvian) runs the brewery with husband Andres Araya (he’s Costa Rican) and business partner Randy Mosher (he’s well-known in Chicago beer circles and invested in breweries like Forbidden Root in West Town).
For the upcoming Pilsen brewpub, Ramirez said she doesn’t want to “water down the culture.” She’s irked by the notion that staples, like burgers, could be somehow magically transformed into Latino American fare by doing something trivial like merely smearing the patty with guacamole. When the brewpub opens, the menu will include ceviches, tacos arabes, and other Latin American street food.
Beer will still be the focal point as the food menu will be fairly small. 5 Rabbit is a three-time medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival, known for brews such as its Golden Ale, Latin-Style Witbier, and 5 Lizard. Ramirez said they’ve spoken to several chefs, but aren’t ready to make an announcement. She wants the food to be a free expression of her cultures. Ramirez and Araya lived in Mexico City for five years and their oldest daughter is Mexican. Additionally, Ramirez’s stepfather is Mexican American.
“It’s especially important now, in this time — when we get a lot of criticisms for being Latin,” Ramirez said. “Not us, in particular, but Latinos in general.”
Ramirez echoed the sentiment behind 5 Rabbit’s decision to pull its beer from the bar inside Trump International Tower Chicago back in 2017 as Donald Trump ran for president. 5 Rabbit didn’t want to sell its beer there after Trump’s disparaging remarks about Latinos. The brewery would later relabel the beer with a new name making fun of Trump’s hair, which was featured in a documentary about the situation. Filmmaker Lilly Wachowski (the Matrix) appeared in the movie and has made bottle art for 5 Rabbit. The movie includes footage of folks reading angry letters and voicemails left by Trump supporters. 5 Rabbit’s crew developed a thick skin, but the messages took their toll.
“I hate saying I used to cry, but I used to cry from the things people wrote,” Ramirez said.
Now as 2020 brings America another presidential election, the brewery is considering a new run of the controversial beer. Ramirez said they get phone calls and emails every day asking if the beer will return. But 5 Rabbit isn’t sure it wants to once more expose itself to the vitriol seen in the last presidential campaign cycle. Ramirez doesn’t want to be silenced, but she wishes the racist circumstances that led to the beer’s creation never existed.
“There’s no beer I hate more than ‘C****o tu Pelo,’” Ramirez said. “I wish it didn’t exist.”
The emotions swing, but no matter what happens in November, Ramirez is eager to open the new project in Pilsen. The neighborhood is home to a large Mexican community, which makes sense for 5 Rabbit. Come back for more updates as progress continues.
5 Rabbit Cerveceria brewpub, 1901 S. Sangamon Street, planned to open early fall.