The Logan Square Kitchen, a collective kitchen space based on Chicago's near Northwest Side is no stranger to red tape, but after nearly 20 inspections from the city's Health Department over the course of two years, they say they are "fed up" and heading to court.
In a blog post published Monday, Logan Square Kitchen owner Zina Murray explained that her business "has been inspected 19 times in 2 years. Law requires two a year. We've been inspected five times more frequently." After being hit with three minor violations Murray described as "groundless" in the latest inspection, on August 2, she is contesting the violations and is reaching out to the community to support her call for major reform of the way in which the city regulates small businesses.
According to Murray, the recent violations [PDF] were not properly explained by the inspector nor a supervisor. She sees the violations as "retaliation for questioning a Health Dept. supervisor's decisions" and wonders what spaces in the city are not being inspected by the short-staffed department as often as the law requires, given the extra attention given to her space.
Late last year, the Chicago Reader outlined Murray's struggles with keeping the kitchen's doors open amid the city's confusion over how to classify her business, located at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The confusion very nearly derailed her business plan before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved her appeal in November.
And today Murray is looking for the public's help in reforming the Kafka-esque chutes and ladders of the city's small business regulations. She is urging community members to attend her Thursday hearing with the city in addition to contacting Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, whom she is hopeful will "improve the experience for all of us."
"These inspections don't keep us safe -- they merely further an illusion of food safety," Murray wrote. "We have been sustained by our community, our wonderful neighbors, and a belief in standing up for what's right."
Ironically, Nice Cream, an artisanal ice cream maker that is one of the small companies that uses the LSK space, is currently in the midst of its own regulatory battle with the city and state. The space is popular with Nice Cream and others because it can be rented by the hour, which is desirable for businesses who do not own or cannot afford their own storefront.
UPDATE: Tuesday, the Chicago Department of Public Health responded to a commenter's inquiry to the Chicago Mayor's Office Facebook page about Logan Square Kitchen's inspection concerns. According to the department, the recently approved Shared Kitchen Ordinance, which goes into effect September 6, "will significantly streamline the inspection process for owners and users."
Murray, however, remains skeptical and told the Huffington Post that she expects the inspections will continue to happen regularly after the ordinance goes into effect. As for how she expects Thursday's hearing to go: "I never know what's going to happen. It never seems to matter anymore."