Art & Culture in Chicago

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Short and Sweet and a Little Cheesy- an interview with Malaika Marion of The Brown Sack (3706 W. Armitage)

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photo courtesy of Yelp

photo courtesy of Yelp

This is the first of a series of interviews I’m conducting now about art and culture in the Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago.  In February I stopped by my local sandwich shop, the Brown Sack, to speak to the Malaika Marion, co-owner.  I nervously sat and sipped tea while trying to muster up the courage to do my first interview with a stranger.  Well, not quite a stranger, last summer my dog demolished her patio by dragging her picnic table and potted tree onto Armitage Ave. in an attempt to tackle a cute bitch.  So, I kind of hoped she wouldn’t remember me.  She remembered.  But, even despite my mishap, she ended up being one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!  The interview turned out to be extraordinarily enjoyable- a nice introduction to the wonderful world of journalism.  The tape ran on for about an hour before it ran out.  In an effort to make it short and sweet for a school assignment, I’ve cut it down to the first 500 words.  



Kelly Reaves: When did you open up?

Malaika Marion:  December 2007

KR:  Why did you choose this location?

MM:  It was fully equipped.  We like this neighborhood- you know, definitely there were a lot of pros and cons to it.  There was a lot of good car traffic on this street.  We were a little nervous about the foot traffic.  But mostly because it was a fully equipped restaurant, ready to move into.  It used to be Borinquen, the famous Puerto Rican restaurant.

KR: What has been the most challenging part of this business?

MM:  Paying bills.  Just keeping up with everything.  You know, we’re so small; it’s just my fiancé, Adam and me, so it’s hard to just juggle everything.  It’s kind of like learn-as-you-go.

KR:  What sort of crowd to you get in here?

MM:  EVERYTHING.  We get police officers, gang bangers, drug dealers, teachers, young hip kids, old people, everything.  People bring their families here, and it’s cool because the neighborhood has a rough reputation.  Every once in a while Adam’s parents will call us and say “Guess what I just heard? There was a shooting a block away.”  And it’s nice for people to be able to bring their parents here and say “see, it’s not that bad.”  It’s nice to be a part of… NOT a gentrification… just working with the nice people that already live here. 

KR:  Do you have any stories about people who come in?

MM:  Oh yeah, we’ve got nicknames for all our crazy customers.  The saddest one was this lady Shirley.  She lived in the complex next door.  She was like, 80, and she was like a little bulldog.  She was always walking up and down the street.  She was in here literally probably 10, 15 times a day, every single day.  And she’d bring in little knickknacks, like a rock or a bullet.  Things off the ground.  She’d pick them up and she’d bring them to us.

KR:  -like a cat or something

MM:  Exactly.  And she left.  She was here everyday for a year and a half and all the sudden we didn’t see her for a month, so we were all worried- going down there, checking on her.  And her neighbors told us she was in the hospital but she couldn’t have any visitors. So we were just hanging in there.  And it’s funny cause every time she’d come in here she’d be pissed off about somebody in her apartment complex.  And she’d say, “I’m gonna dye my hair red and move to Kentucky!” cause she could “fish, and have a dog, and a garden!”  And so then she came back after having been missing for 2 months with her hair dyed red.  And she just walked in like she hadn’t even been gone, so we said, “Hey?! How ya doin Shirley? Where have you been?” and she said, “I TOLD you I was gonna move to Kentucky!”  And that’s awesome.  So it was actually a happy story.  We were sad to see her go.  Well, kind of.  She was very aggravating.  But she was OUR aggravation.  And we’ve got Earl the bootleg guy.  He sells movies, socks, pillows, pictures.  Everything.  You can find him here and at Tony’s Finer Foods on Fullerton Avenue.

KR:  What are your goals for the brown sack?

MM:  We just wanna be around, part of the neighborhood for a while.  I grew up in Evanston and it’s nice to be able to go back to places that have always been there.  I love that.  So that’s what we want to be. I think a cool thing about Logan Square is that the money and the developers haven’t come in and destroyed it yet.


photo courtesy of Decider Chicago

photo courtesy of Decider Chicago


Written by Kelly Reaves

March 19, 2009 at 11:18 pm

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