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Salad greens grow next to Dunkin Donuts in Bedford Park
Bedford Park is a southwest suburb with more employers in its midst than homes, by a score of about 380 to 200. So it’s a good place to look for a job, but otherwise it’s not going to linger in most people’s memories, except for maybe when they’re stuck at a rail crossing that feeds the industrial hub.
Home to a vast switching yard for the Belt Railway Co. of Chicago, Bedford Park historically has promoted its transportation connections to companies looking to set up a factory or a warehouse.
It’s not normally thought of as a place for food production, but two such developments have started there. They occupy opposite ends of the healthy eating spectrum, but both are impressive because of their size and audacity. One place produces salad greens, the other doughnuts.
The salad fixings won’t have to travel as far as they usually do to get to your plate. But the doughnuts are traveling farther than they did before. I don’t know how this shakes out for energy conservation, but for now that’s not the point. These operations are employing about 140 people in buildings that were previously vacant, with hopes that the payrolls can grow to about 400 jobs.
Now growing at 6700 S. Sayre in a 90,000-square-foot building is a “vertical indoor farm.” Owner FarmedHere LLC produces rows of basil and arugula that can be stacked six deep in a temperature-controlled, pesticide-free setting. It sells its products, including a sweet basil vinaigrette, to Whole Foods, Mariano’s and other stores.
“This is truly the first application of this technique on this scale,” said FarmedHere’s chief executive, Jolanta Hardej. She said the plant has Agriculture Department certification as an organic producer.
The place essentially replaces soil with fish gunk. Hardej said the plant raises tilapia in four 800-gallon tanks. Their waste nourishes the crops and 97 percent of the water is filtered and reused, she said.
It’s a different life for a longtime Chicagoan who used to be a mortgage broker. Hardej said production this year should be about 300,000 pounds of leafy greens, with a goal of a million pounds in 2014. Tilapia eventually will be sold, but for now the emphasis is on expanding into peppers, tomatoes and more, she said.
Heading the doughnut operation at 5353 W. 73rd St. is Karim Khowaja, one of 39 Dunkin Donuts franchise owners with an equity share in the operation. Production ramped up this week, with the products going out to more than 300 Dunkin Donuts across the Chicago area. Some of them handled inventory the old-fashioned way, baking it in the back.
Khowaja said Dunkin Donuts has been urging centralized manufacturing on its franchisees, who are receptive. “Many of us, like me, are second-generation franchisees,” he said. “The second generation is not real keen on the doughnut production.”
The operation in a 98,000-square-foot building has 120 employees. The payroll could grow to 200, Khowaja said, especially if the partnership realizes its goal of supplying sellers other than Dunkin Donuts.
Khowaja said the company, called Unified CML LLC, hired away a Dunkin Donuts auditor to oversee the process from ingredient mixing to delivery, all to make sure the doughnuts are fresh and consistent. It sounds like an odd job for an auditor, but maybe this one is fond of Boston kremes.
Bedford Park President David Brady said both new businesses will get subsidies from tax-increment financing as well as property-tax breaks for reviving industrial property. The village uses both tools to counteract the higher Cook County property taxes that can send manufacturers to collar counties.
“We take great pride in getting new businesses up and going as quickly as we can,” Brady said.
Amid a gradual rebound in industrial and commercial investment, Brady said he’s looking forward to a couple other industries moving on, and to eventual expansion of the village’s hotel complex near Midway.
The town runs radio ads promoting its interest in new business. Rolling out a welcome mat instead of red tape is a simple idea, but Chicago’s City Hall might take note of its nimble neighbor.
OLD TOWN EXPANSION: Right across from the 250-unit apartment complex at 1225 N. Wells, developer James Letchinger has teamed up again with Michael Marchese’s Harlem Irving Cos. Their partnership acquired a lot at 1220 N. Wells for $6.65 million in February. Letchinger said he plans a five-story, 71-apartment building with 10,000 square feet of retail.
Letchinger was an investor in the 1225 N. Wells project, where Hines Interests LP took the lead after economic detours and fights with the community. This new deal should be less arduous, as Letchinger said he is building within existing zoning rules.
He said construction should begin in a few weeks, with an opening around mid-2014. Look for rents of at least $3 per square foot.
DOING THE DEALS: Howard Ecker & Co. said it negotiated leases for about 23,000 square feet at 218 S. Wabash for the union Unite HERE Local 1, which moved from 55 W. Van Buren. Baum Realty Group said it represented the men’s fashion retailer Brioni in its ground-level lease of 2,300 square feet at 12 E. Walton. A fall opening is planned. Marcus & Millichap brokered the nearly $4 million sale of a property leased to Lowe’s, Whole Foods and other stores at 15619 S. LaGrange Road, Orland Park.