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When James Andrews opened a hot-dog stand on this city's rough West Side, he thought he was doing a community service by hiring ex-convicts. But some in the neighborhood think the name he chose -- Felony Franks -- is a crime. An alderman has refused Mr. Andrews permission to hang a new sign or build a drive-through lane. A pastor accused the restaurant owner, who is not an ex-convict, of "pimping out" the community. Members of a neighborhood association have vowed to stay away from Felony Franks until the name is changed and the décor -- including paintings of cartoon hot dogs in prison stripes -- is removed.
The 64-year-old businessman has long employed ex-convicts at his main business, a company that supplies paper goods to restaurants. He says he thinks people deserve a second chance and felons need stable jobs so they don't add to homelessness. He thought of opening a hot-dog stand three years ago while driving past one. The name "Felony Franks" just popped into his head, he says.
He spent more than $160,000 to refurbish a shuttered Polish-sausage stand on a busy corner in an area that's a mix of new condos and stately old homes, subsidized housing and boarded-up storefronts. Mr. Andrews hired a dozen ex-cons to cook and serve frankfurters, sausages, steak sandwiches and french fries sliced from raw potatoes. Customers enter a cramped space framed by cinder-block walls, with no tables or chairs. Near the entrance hangs a mock list of Miranda rights: "You have the right to remain hungry. Anything you order can and will be used to feed you here at Felony Franks."
Despite the controversy, Mr. Andrews says he's rung up about $30,000 in sales each month since opening, and has received more than 1,000 job applications from former felons. He envisions opening more Felony Franks in Chicago and says he's already received dozens of unsolicited requests from prospective franchisees across the U.S. He says he won't change the name of his business for anyone. "I won't even consider it," he says.