CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker helped White cut through the red tape at City Hall, after a dispute over supposed debt turned into a road block.
White wants to turn her love for food into a business.
“I fell in love with catering, because the people love me,” she said.
White is storing her catering equipment in her home for now, but hopes to run her budding business out of a shared kitchen.
She found just the spot: The Hatchery, a 67,000-square-foot self-described food and beverage business incubator, to enable local entrepreneurs to build and grow.
The city provided $7 million in tax increment financing and another $1.75 million in New Markets Tax Credits for the non-profit Hatchery.
“It creates an economic opportunity, and an economic engine in the West Side of the city of Chicago, linking folks in the West Side up to one of the most dynamic parts of our economy,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said when the city announced plans for The Hatchery in 2017.
White, a West Side resident, was one of those folks trying to grow a business, until City Hall squashed her dreams.
“They put stuff in our communities that are supposed to be for people in communities, but they make it so far out of reach for them to be able to actually take advantage of it that it’s not realistic, because most of them are poor,” she said.
A mountain of paperwork proved to be the recipe for disaster for White.
Despite being a certified food service manager, having a $2 million liability insurance policy, and paying the $330 fee to get a shared kitchen user license, City Hall wouldn’t give her that needed license.
The city gave her three reasons:
First, there were fees from an old beauty salon White owned more than 15 years ago. Despite moving the business from the city to the suburbs, Chicago kept charging White a $40 annual sign fee that eventually ballooned to $734.33 with penalties and fees.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said.
Second, she lost an investment property to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but the city billed her for water at that building starting in 2015. The $325 water bill skyrocketed to $1,089.69, again with penalties and fees.
“For it to go the way that it did. I was shocked. I felt anger, shock. I was appalled that he told me they kept billing me, and they still expect me to pay,” she said.
Third, and arguably most ridiculous, White had a former business partner who racked up parking tickets totaling $2,836 with penalties and fees. The tickets dated back to before she was White’s partner.
“They went back, they were dated back all the way before my business was even formulated, formed, to 2004. My business was formed in 2007,” White said. “I was there for three hours to make that go away.”
Sources said budding entrepreneurs running into red tape like this is quite common at City Hall.
After getting the parking ticket mess cleared up, White’s business was still held up because of that other $1,800 in supposed debt.
White has a message for Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the wake of her struggles at City Hall.
“We have a lot of great opportunities in city already for people – like The Hatchery, case in point – but make it where the people in the inner city and in these communities, that can actually partake in it. Make it easier for them. Streamline this thing where it’s not so hard,” she said.
“There is something wrong. And here’s the thing; systems don’t break down without people,” she added. “The systems that you have in place, as well as the people you have to enforce everything, they’re not up to par, and it needs to get better, and it needs to change, and it needs to happen immediately.”
After CBS 2 got involved, White got good news. The city would wipe out all that supposed debt if she simply paid the original $40 sign fee.
Unfortunately, that required even more runaround at City Hall; up and down, in and out of offices.
Finally, she got her city license on Monday.
That means she’ll now have access to The Hatchery to create tasty spreads, like a recent 100th birthday party she catered for 200 guests.
“It’s a fresh start for me. It means everything. It means everything. It’s now the open door,” she said.
But there’s still one more thing. After White got her license, the Water Department said she still owes $447. How can that be?
The city says her case is complicated, but released her license while the matter was being researched. We’ll keep you posted on that water bill.
Meantime, The Hatchery is scheduled to host a “Starting A Food Business” event Wednesday night to help people like White cut through the red tape at City Hall.
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