The owners of the Delta plan on reopening next month after a lawsuit was dropped that led to the closure of Wicker Park restaurant and bar. The lawsuit, which accused an investor of taking a $145,000 Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan from the restaurant, was dropped after the parties met one and one and hashed out their differences, according to co-owner Eldridge Williams.
“We can definitely say cooler heads prevailed,” Williams says.
Williams had sued Robert Johnson, accusing Johnson of taking the federal loan which was earmarked for COVID-19 relief. Johnson is the main investor in the Delta and has also invested in other businesses with Williams. The two have a long history. Williams says he made a mistake by filing the lawsuit and acted impulsively. Williams says Johnson saw the money in the acount and didn’t know how it would be spent. Johnson withdrew the money to protect the restaurant; he didn’t want the funds to be squandered, Williams says. Johnson wanted to hear Williams’s vision for the future of the Delta before returning the money. They met in mid-May, shortly after the lawsuit was filed on May 8.
“His intentions were never to keep the money,” Williams says of Johnson.
Williams opened the Delta in 2017, one of the few African American-owned bars in the neighborhood. The Delta isn’t a run-of-the-bill bar, serving an ambitious menu that explores the history of Mississippi Delta tamales. There’s also gym shoe tamale, a tribute to the South Side sandwich. At night, DJs perform as the space morphs into more of a welcoming bar vibe.
As COVID-19 struck, Williams plotted out the Delta’s future and applied for a PPP loan. At that time, the Delta kept open for takeout and delivery. After receiving the $145,000, Williams deposited in the bank. The next morning he checked the balance and saw the money had vanished. Worried that he wouldn’t have money to keep the restaurant going, and that he’d be on the hook to pay off the loan, Williams filed a lawsuit against Johnson. He then announced the Delta would likely close for good. The restaurant has been closed since May 7.
Johnson, through Williams, had no comment. Williams says he wished he never involved attorneys and that better communication would have saved them a lot of trouble. The money’s been redeposited, and they’re working on making repairs and improvements to the space. Williams is shooting for a mid-July reopening. The Delta has a back patio which will allow them to serve customers on premises.
For Williams, a Chicago service industry vet, the lawsuit was a humbling experience. He’s apologetic. But he’s also lifted by the positive reception from the community, especially black customers. The solidarity is comforting in a much larger context. The last few weeks — starting with George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and extending to Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta — have been difficult.
“It’s a thing that I think about all the time,” Williams says. “But I’m a firm believer that things will get better, people will start to come around.”
Stay tuned for a reopening date.