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Exclusive: Prejudice Plagues Restaurant?

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Chicago-based and Black-owned restaurant and lounge, Nouveau Tavern, is making culinary headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The establishment, which opened in October, has collected rave reviews for its upscale New Orleans cuisine and ability to morph into an elegant nightlife experience.

But what it lacks is the support of residents in the tiny area of River North where it’s located, at least according to owner Marsette Mangum who told JETmag.com he was appalled after reading this Eater Chicago article in which he claims he was misidentified as a former felon and, as a result, lost his food and liquor licensing.

Mangum contends that the city is confusing him with lifelong friend and well-known party promoter, Teddy Gilmore, who is actually a marketing consultant contracted by Nouveau Tavern.

Gilmore volunteered to JETmag.com that he has a felony on his record, related to tax issues from his party promoting past.

“It’s libelous,” Gilmore told JETmag.com of the swapped identities and current news about Nouveau. Gilmore also said that he believes officials served the tavern with closure notice in the late evening on April 11 in order to keep them from capitalizing off of their usual weekend traffic.

“The establishment was operating without food and liquor licenses and was shut down,” a Chicago police spokeswoman is quoted as telling Eater Chicago. “This action was taken with prior consultation of the local liquor commission and business and consumer affairs.”

“They are targeting us big time,” Gilmore insisted.  “In fact,  the health inspector was sent down there today, and we’ve done nothing but try to be a great restaurant.”

Those efforts are failing, Mangum explained.   The area he has invested in does not appear to be welcoming, and not due to the conduct of his guests, but because of the color of their skin.  It’s an issue related to Chicago’s larger problems of segregation, both he and Gilmore argue. Gilmore, in fact, was quoted on the issue of Chicago segregation in this WBEZ-FM piece about the color-coded party scene.

“The big picture is we just have too many African Americans standing outside to get in,” Mangum said.  “But we’re just like every other spot on that block and beyond with patrons waiting outside to enter.  Yes, sometimes people may come out of our place and sometimes they’re talking loudly, but the same thing goes on at the bars and clubs in the area.  This isn’t Catholic church service letting out, after all.”

Though he feels his conduct and club owner issues are no different than his peers in the area, Mangum recently addressed noise complaints by hiring an engineering expert to dampen the sound during musical events.

But he doubts there is any concession that will bring about acceptance in a city where African-American businesses are seemingly pushed toward so-called “urban” areas in the south suburbs or neighborhoods where more Black residents live and work.

Mangum revealed that Black patrons have approached him with tears in their eyes.

“I’ve had some of them say, ‘We haven’t had anything like this since Shark Bar or Blu47,” Mangum explained, name checking two storied, but now defunct, venues owned by Blacks. “I think I may be the first Black person to own a restaurant in River North.  But to have a ‘first Black’ anything in 2014, that’s a problem.  Still, if a guy with a Harvard law degree and unquestionable intelligence can still face people saying he’s not qualified to be president of the United States, what chance do the rest of us have?”

He paused…en route to Nouveau in order to sort out the health inspector situation impacting him at the time of this post.

“There are a number of Black people in Chicago with the money and resources to do what I have done and far greater,” he added.  “Let’s start asking why they aren’t opening businesses in this area or areas like it.  What’s happening to me is the answer.”

JETmag.com has reached out to both  the alderman’s office in Nouveau Tavern’s Ward and Chicago police for comment and will update this post once we have their responses.  A representative for Alderman Brendan Reilly told us that the official was unavailable today, but we may receive a statement or interview in coming days.