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Repeat liquor thefts plague Chicago restaurants as owners look for answers

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July 9, 2024

Cathy Sagle


July 5, 2024

Chicago restaurant owners are caught in another struggle. First, it was surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s a rash of repeat break-in’s around the city.

“Every restaurant owner thinks, ‘When’s it my turn? When am I going to get hit next?’” said Sam Sanchez. “My brother is a block away, he got hit also.”

Sanchez, owner of Moe’s Cantina in River North and Wrigleyville, saw his River North location broken into three weeks ago. A burglar wearing a hoodie and carrying a white bag made off with a number of top shelf bottles of liquor from behind the bar.

“It’s just routine,” Sanchez said. “These bottles can be $100-150. Some are $200. They know what they’re going for. They come in, take 10-20 bottles, and we’re looking at over $2,000-worth of bottles being stolen.”

The same thing happened at his brother’s restaurant, Point and Feather on West Hubbard Street, two days before when a man in an Adidas t-shirt and hat made off with a bag of liquor bottles after breaking into the restaurant’s kitchen.

“There’s a black market for resale of stolen liquor bottles,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward). “They’re breaking in, and even though there’s not a lot of cash to take because most restaurants lock it up or don’t even leave it anymore, that means the only thing of value left to steal is the liquor.”

Hopkins, who chairs Chicago City Council’s public safety committee, said the Near North police district has a downtown burglary task force dedicated toward catching offenders in the act, but meaningful results are rare.

According to an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times, there were 635 restaurant burglaries in 2023, with only 34 arrests made, or in other words, just 5.3% of cases saw an arrest made as a result of an investigation.

So far this year, the Sun-Times noted there have been 315 restaurant break-in’s, with just 11 arrests being made, or in 3.5% of incidents.

“The small mom and pop stores cant afford this,” Hopkins said. “They can’t afford to keep replacing a broken window every 30 days [or] a door that got jimmied with a crow bar. Insurance companies don’t always cover this anymore so, it’s really hitting the small businesses hard.”

On June 19, burglars smashed the front glass door of Comfort’s African Cuisine in Lakeview East. It’s the third time they have been victimized since opening one year ago.

“They’ll break in. If they get arrested, we’re lucky if they arrest one,” Sanchez said. “The [burglary] on Clark Street, the same person has been arrested seven times and released seven times. At Sluggers, they broke in three times, the same person. The judge will not detain them. They’re not detainable offenses.”

Sanchez said insurance companies have started dropping restaurants who have been broken into multiple times, or in some cases, raised their rates and deductibles exponentially after multiple incidents.

The Chicago restaurant owner also said he is imploring state lawmakers in Springfield to pass an amendment to the SAFE-T Act that would make burglaries done by repeat offenders a detainable offense.