Pop-up smokehouse, youth mentoring program on West Side shuts down after thieves steal generators

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Friday, August 12, 2022
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Three generators were recently ripped right out of locked boxes and stolen during a break-in at 5th Avenue Smokers in North Lawndale.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A pop-up restaurant dedicated to training young people in culinary arts on Chicago's West Side has shut down indefinitely after it was targeted by thieves.

Three generators were recently ripped right out of locked boxes and stolen during a break-in at 5th Avenue Smokers in North Lawndale.

"We haven't had any issues, haven't had any problems," 360 Nation volunteer and pitmaster Amon Brooks said. "So we are thinking, 'Ok we are good with the community, we know we are respected,' but this kind of thing happens."

The generators are the only way to keep the smoke house, which was retrofitted inside a shipping container, operating.

"It's about being here doing something great," student Jaheim Johnson said. "It just feels bad somebody would do this."

5th Avenue Smokers is part of youth mentoring program started by the non-profit 360 Nation. It began on a West Side empty lot across from a CPS school. It started with teaching students about gardening and keeping the community clean. A few years later, a pop-up smoke house was added.

"We started teaching about barbecue and smoking meats and it sort of grew," Brooks said, "and we added more to the menu."

"It's opened up my ears and eyes to a lot of things and opened up more doors to get farther in life," student Rhomello Wellington said.

But, the program has come to a temporary halt until enough money is raised to replace three generators, which cost about $2,500 dollars each.

"This is a minor setback for a major comeback," Johnson said. "We will be better than ever when we get the generators up and running again."

Reopening as soon as possible is not just about keeping the program going. Students said it is also about sharing with the community a smokehouse they consider one of the best in city.

Johnson and Wellington said their rib tips melt in your mouth.

"Especially once you add the sauce to it get it sloppy, you gonna feel it," Wellington said. "It's hot, it's fresh. Everything is made with love and everything."

The sauce is a secret recipe concocted by the students - and they are not about to give away their ingredients.

"Absolutely not," Johnson said with a laugh. "Sorry, it's the best."

The smokehouse is collecting money on GoFundMe to pay for new generators.