Nini’s Deli, the restaurant whose owners’ homophobic and anti-Black stances drew protesters outside their Noble Square block two years ago, has closed. Owner Juan “Juany” Riseco announced via Facebook that Saturday, October 1, was the deli’s last day of business at 543 N. Noble Street.
A request for comment to Riesco wasn’t immediately returned.
Nini’s originally opened in 2013. The Riesco family, the owners, are members of Metro Praise International’s chapter in Belmont Cragin (Juany Riesco was listed as a church deacon) and used Nini’s social media as a platform to broadcast their views on homosexuality, abortion, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, Metro Praise ignored local stay-at-home orders and held services. The city fined the church.
Though the restaurant scored high on Yelp — the platform in August touted it as the best sandwich shop in Illinois — Riesco and his family were more concerned with positioning Nini’s as an extension of their pulpit to bring more followers to their church: “We are hopeful and excited for what God has in store for us next,” Nini’s Facebook post reads, announcing the closing.
In June 2020, Riesco publicly took a pro-police stance following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Large crowds would gather outside the business in protest. In the leadup, José Riesco used a megaphone to scorn the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming protesters didn’t care about Black lives, and only wanted to “promote [their] wicked agenda of abortion, homosexuality and trying to take over this nation.” His church, Metro Praise, has tenets that include a belief in so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that can result in serious harm. Nini’s would promptly close.
Since opening the empanada and Cuban sandwich cafe in 2013, the family built close relationships with companies like Nike, Bang Bang Pie, and Intelligentsia. They either carried their brands at the restaurant or were entwined in marketing campaigns. But the 2020 comments backfired and those sponsors began distancing themselves. Riesco created Chicago Native, a brand built on the street cred of the hip, young people — many of them Black — who wore the clothing. After the protests, the brand vanished, but Riesco has since brought it back.
Some in Chicago’s restaurant community, particularly Latinx members, were embarrassed by Nini’s. A few organized a food truck, Nono’s Deli, a parody that aped Nini’s menu. Parked outside Eckhart Park, they raised $11,000 for Black and LGBTQ charities.
The church’s followers argued protestors were engaging in cancel culture, that Nini’s was being forced into hiding, and that the Riescos had every right to share their views. Juany Riesco would claim gentrification as fueling the protests. His family, with Cuban, Mexican, and Lebanese roots, had been around West Town since the ‘80s.
After a year, Riesco and his family reopened Nini’s in June 2021. They vowed to double down on what ownership called “Christian values,” which included supporting anti-abortion causes and mocking gender pronouns. They also pledged to ignore the city’s COVID vaccine mandate. These statements gained Riesco notoriety across the country within the church’s community, leading to networking opportunities and interviews.