Your NPR news source
Kimberly Blackburn, wearing a black shirt, is surrounded by steam, metal coffee pitchers and red walls as she stands in front of the espresso machine at her Red June Cafe in Bucktown, Chicago.

Kim Blackburn’s Red June Cafe in Bucktown has been burglarized twice in recent months as break-ins targeting Chicago restaurants have surged.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago restaurants are being burglarized in record numbers: 'I'm just beyond outraged'

There were 635 burglaries reported at restaurants last year, the most since at least 2001, and the city is on pace to surpass that number this year.

When Paul Fehribach learned his Andersonville restaurant had been burglarized in late January, the acclaimed chef was left feeling angry — but not surprised.

La Voz Sidebar

Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, la sección bilingüe del Sun-Times.

“Just in the previous week, two or three other places on the block had been broken into,” said Frehribach, whose restaurant Big Jones specializes in southern cuisine and sits on a bustling stretch of North Clark Street.

The alarming trend extends far beyond that strip. Throughout the city, restaurants are now being burglarized at a record clip after break-ins rose to a historic level last year.

As with most burglaries, the suspects have rarely been caught. Fehribach said it took days for police officers to respond to Big Jones, and court records show no one has been charged.

“I’m just beyond outraged at the aldermen and the city’s government, which is doing nothing but make it more difficult for me to operate my business,” Fehribach said.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), chair of the City Council Public Safety Committee, said he sympathizes with business owners and wants to give the Chicago Police Department more tools to fight the burglary surge.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) speaks into a microphone at his seat during a Chicago City Council committee meeting.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Hopkins noted that his ward — which covers parts of Lincoln Park, Streeterville, the Gold Coast, Old Town and the Near North Side — has seen two types of burglaries: those targeting cafes and diners for cash and others raiding restaurants’ liquor to feed “a thriving black market” for booze.

The Near North police district now has a specific detail focused on protecting businesses against burglaries, but Hopkins said the problem in his ward is still “rampant and growing.”

He’s now pushing to revisit the police department’s controversial vehicle pursuit policy and to ensure that cops are taking advantage of technologies like facial recognition and license plate readers.

“We’re going to be looking at ways to interdict these armed robbery and burglary crews while they’re still in progress because we have seen the pattern,” he said. “If they do one, they do another one and another and another.”

A spike in burglaries but few arrests

The number of burglaries reported at Chicago restaurants jumped to 635 last year, the highest total recorded since at least 2001, the earliest year of available city data. The city has since tallied 315 restaurant burglaries through June 16, more than were reported at the same point last year.

Chicago restaurant burglaries.png

Frank Main/Sun-Times

Overall burglaries have fallen significantly from the levels recorded in the aughts and early 2010s, the data show. Since the start of 2023, the number of citywide burglaries has fluctuated slightly.

But over the same period, break-ins at restaurants have made up a much larger share of the city’s total burglaries. Nearly 10% of burglaries this year have impacted restaurants, far higher than the average of 2.3% dating back to 2001.

Chicago burglaries_ How many targeted restaurants_.png

Frank Main/Sun-Times

Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said the trade group “would love to see more presence of officers and security guards throughout our 77 communities as it serves as a strong deterrent.”

Red June Cafe in Bucktown was hit twice in less than two months, most recently on Feb. 9. Owner Kim Blackburn said she had been bracing for a break-in given “all the burglaries that have been happening.”

Mural on the wall of Red June Cafe, with a customer seated in front of it.

Red June Cafe, a coffee shop located at 2020 N. Leavitt St. in the Bucktown neighborhood, has recently experienced two break-ins.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Blackburn said it’s been “aggravating” to deal with the aftermath, but she also wondered what can be done to address what could be a crime of desperation. “Do we start with providing more help for these people that don’t have anything or that are driven to steal?” she said.

Police, however, have struggled to solve the burglaries. It’s hard to tell who’s behind them.

An arrest was made in just 34 of the burglaries targeting restaurants in 2023, or 5.3% of the cases, data show. That number has fallen to 3.5% this year, accounting for arrests in just 11 cases.

A police spokesperson said business liaison officers in each of the department’s 22 districts “are a direct line of communication for business owners and employees to express public safety concerns so that we can address them.

“The department also provides safety reviews to businesses, which includes crime prevention and security tips,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Additionally, CPD works to investigate burglaries and identify burglary patterns to hold the offenders accountable.

“During investigations into these patterns, detectives compile and disseminate community alerts with prevention and awareness information.”

‘It makes us feel good that something was done’

Officers were able to thwart a smash-and-grab burglary last month at Infuzed Cafe, a coffee shop in Logan Square that sells treats and drinks mixed with popular hemp-derived substances like CBD and Delta-8 THC.

A rideshare driver flagged down the cops after watching someone bust out the cafe’s glass and step inside, according to an arrest report. Officers swung around and found Raul Guerra carrying 100 grams of suspected cannabis near the cafe at 1953 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Guerra, 51, was charged with felony counts of burglary, criminal property damage and cannabis possession, court records show. He was on electronic monitoring at the time.

Nashwa Rahim, the cafe’s co-owner, tried to remain positive after the break-in, describing it as “the best case scenario in a horrible situation.

Nashwa Rahim wears a scarf draped over her head and shoulders as she stands next to the door sign of Infuzed Cafe.

Nashwa Rahim, co-owner of Infuzed Cafe, 1953 N. Milwaukee Ave., said a burglary at the business in late May resulted in the “best case scenario in a horrible situation.”

Anthony Vasquez/Sun-Times

“No one was hurt, no one was here,” Rahim said. “There was minimal damage to the cafe. I’m just glad everyone’s safe.”

Surveillance video shows a man lumbering inside the dark cafe and rummaging through a display case. Although thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was taken, Rahim said she was relieved someone was arrested.

“It would suck if he tried to come back again,” she noted. “It makes us feel good that something was done.”

Looking forward, she views the burglary as a learning experience. “We’ll be better at hiding our product or making sure our security systems are better,” she said.

Burglarized twice, restaurant owner remains hopeful

Like Blackburn, 2d Restaurant’s Lake View location has been burglarized twice in a matter of months.

Owner Kevin Yu said his team has been struggling mentally and financially since the first burglary in November. But after the French-themed restaurant was hit again in March, Yu was left in “disbelief,” he said.

“In both instances, we lost over a thousand dollars,” he said."Realizing that our second home was broken into twice by thieves, that was really a shocker for all of us.”

While the break-ins set his business back, Yu and his partners have tried to look on the bright side. Instead of replacing the glass and doors that were broken, they plan to use the space for a new mural.

“We’re not just erasing what happened, but really embracing that as part of our journey with the 2d Restaurant,” Yu said. “And sharing that ... any hardship can be overcome.”

The Latest
Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly spoke with WBEZ’s Michael Puente to discuss the impact license plate readers have had on identifying suspects in a majority of interstate shootings.