Over the weekend, a food truck that parodied Nini’s Deli — the disgraced and now closed restaurant whose owners made bigoted comments in the wake of the George Floyd protests — raised more than $10,000 for charity. Starting on Juneteenth, Nono’s Deli drew lines that wrapped along Eckhart Park in West Town. Food sold out Friday and Saturday by the afternoon and organizers want to bring back the truck for future sales.
Nini’s closed in early June as attention focused on Black Lives Matter and the protests against police brutality aimed at African Americans. The owners of the Noble Square restaurant, Juan and José Riesco, made comments perceived as anti-Black, evoking “All Lives Matter,” a common and racist response used to diminish the racism suffered by Black people in America. Protesters descended toward the tiny restaurant, 543 N. Noble Street, after reading Juan Riesco’s online comments and hearing his brother, José Riesco, speak in front of the restaurant. Juan Riesco would close the restaurant and discontinue his clothing line, Chicago Native. He told the Tribune his family received death threats and that they’ve left the city. Juan Riesco says he felt persecuted for his religion which opposes LGBTQ rights and pro-choice views. Riesco adds he still supports Black Lives Matters.
Nono’s co-organizer Jared Bobo says his crew is looking for larger sponsorships and want to “work more directly with the community.” They raised $10,366 from sales on Friday and Saturday, Bobo says. Cash Drop, a website used for online ordering, is donating its fees. That amounts to $518 more, Bobo says. That money goes to My Block My Hood My City and Center on Halsted. These two groups help Black and LGBTQ communities — groups that were targeted by the original comments by the Riescos.
Nini’s served Cuban fare including sandwiches and empanadas. Local artists and musicians, many of them who carried progressive ideals, would hang out inside. That’s what made the Riescos’ comments that much hurtful.
Seeing the hurt, Nono’s organizers — a team of hospitality veterans — sought out to make a statement, to mend feelings between the Black and Latinx communities while showing support for LGBTQ clusters. Tension between those groups had increased in Pilsen and Little Village, two Latinx-dominated neighborhoods where reports of violence against African Americans became topics of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s news briefings. Hoping to help, a group of chefs — including Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group), Brian Fisher (Entente), Erick Williams (Virtue), Brian Jupiter (Frontier), and Mariya Russell (Kumiko) — made food for a unity rally held in early June in Pilsen. Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke.
Nono’s started out as a joke, but organizers quickly realized that were onto something. They pooled their resources and reached out to chefs, food companies, and more. Danny Espinoza, who’s in charge of food at Cantina Laredo in River North, quickly came up with a menu that’s pays an homage to Nini’s menu with empanadas, plus bistec and media noche sandwiches. Edgar Coronado, a sous chef at Cochon Volant, specializes in breads which make for ideal vehicles for Espinoza’s sandwich stuffings. Bobo started Like Food, a marketing company and helped spread the word. Espinoza brought in another friend, Florentino Gutierrez, an industry veteran who had access to a food truck.
Dark Matter Coffee supplied the beans for the cafes con leche. The food is top notch, thanks to Coronado’s bread. The bistec sandwich was layered with healthy helpings of beef, and the veggie, chicken, and beef empanadas were perfectly fried. The food was prepped in a truck. Imagine what they could do with a full kitchen. Follow Nono’s Deli on Instagram for updates on the truck’s next appearance.