Nini’s Deli announces plan to reopen, 1 year after its homophobic, anti-Black Lives Matter messaging drew outrage

·3 min read

A year after shutting down in a firestorm of controversy over its unapologetically homophobic and anti-Black Lives Matter messaging, Nini’s Deli will return next month with plans “to double down on our Christian worldview,” the cafe’s founder announced on social media June 10.

Also, empanadas and iced coffee will be served.

Nini’s Deli founder Juan Riesco said on Facebook and Instagram that Nini’s Deli would return following “prayer, counsel from our leaders and an unction from the Holy Ghost” at 9 a.m. July 6, “if the Lord wills it.”

Riesco declined to comment via Facebook message, saying he would “be taking interviews closer to opening.”

“I pray you repent before it’s too late,” he added.

Nini’s Deli closed in June 2020, during the height of racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The West Town deli was once known mostly for its sandwiches and bright pink wall at the corner of Ohio and Noble streets; Riesco reinvented the restaurant from his immigrant parents’ organic grocery that opened in the ’80s.

“We are so thankful, we get lines that consist of 32 people sitting down and 40 people in line; it feels incredible, it’s an honor,” Riesco said in 2017.

The lines outside Nini’s Deli took on a different tenor last summer when Riesco and family members criticized LGTBQ rights, abortion and the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and via loud speaker outside the restaurant in the days after Floyd’s death. The restaurant became the target of protests by hundreds of people last June that led to heated exchanges.

“You don’t care about other Black lives. You only care when it’s good for your world view, when it’s good to help you sin, when it’s good to help you promote your wicked agenda of abortion, homosexuality and trying to take over this nation,” José Riesco, Juan’s brother, said over a speaker outside the restaurant in a video posted to the owner’s Instagram last summer.

Juan Riesco has said that while he “supports the idea of Black Lives Matter,” he disagreed with the Black Lives Matter movement and the pro-LGBTQ and pro-choice views of protestors gathering at Nini’s Deli. In January, Riesco said on his Instagram account that “God hates the BLM movement.”

Several business partners cut ties with Nini’s Deli after protests, including Nike, the Chicago Fire soccer team, Molly’s Cupcakes, Topo Chico, Intelligentsia and Bang Bang Pie. Nini’s was also removed from two Halal-focused restaurant guides, Zabihah and Haloodie, and the Cash Drop food ordering app.

Following last summer’s protests, Riesco said, his family has received death threats and left the city out of concern for their safety after their home addresses were leaked. According to his Facebook page, Riesco lives in Dallas.

“People want us to conform to their beliefs, and if you don’t, they’re willing to exterminate you,” Juan Riesco said last summer. “All because they don’t believe in our religion and what we stand for. That’s a scary place for our country to be.”

This week’s Instagram and Facebook posts said the new Nini’s Deli will serve empanadas and iced cafe con leche through a takeout window. It said the Riescos will “reopen our family business for the glory of God alone!!”

“We know it is an interesting time to be a vocal Christian business, but we also know all Christians are to be a light in a dark place, and this is the place we are called to,” the posts say. They were accompanied by the image of a pink cross painted on a Black background.

The posts concluded by saying, “We’ll see you in July Chicago!”

jbnoel@chicagotribune.com

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