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October 21, 2013

A scorching jobs desert

A century ago, when Daniel Burnham was noodling his Plan of Chicago, he famously urged civic leaders to make no little plans. "Make big plans," he added. Less known is the advice Burnham gave in the very next sentence: "Aim high in hope and work."

When Peter McKnight launched his Jamaica Jerk Villa restaurant at 79th and Halsted streets, his "No. 1 problem" was the crowd of young people who would hang out on the sidewalk in front of his store. They would panhandle, deal drugs and mess with customers.

McKnight summoned police four or five times a day. He pleaded with the young people to step away: "I would keep it cordial, and respectful, and say, 'We're just not having it.'" Over time he turned Jamaica Jerk Villa into a thriving business in a crime-ridden neighborhood that most entrepreneurs avoid.

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