After eight months, a lawsuit, and countless community battles, Japanese restaurant Yusho is finally in the clear to open its doors in summer 2014. The lawsuit filed by Hyde Park residents against the restaurant was dismissed on December 17, 2013.
The restaurant has become a proxy for an ongoing snare between the University of Chicago Commercial Real Estate Operations (CREO) and some members of the residential community who take issue with the University’s recent development plans in Hyde Park.
The East 53rd Street and South Kimbark Avenue property slated to host Yusho is located at the corner of an alcohol-free or “dry” precinct. Across the street from the building is Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, a liquor store that falls just outside of the precinct boundaries.
For a business to gain a liquor license in the dry precinct, local law requires that a petition be circulated and that at least two-thirds of the residents vote in favor of the proposal. The University circulated the petition to local residents on Yusho’s behalf.
“We had the number [of signatures] that was needed, but there was a contention of local residents who opposed it, so what happens is…they countersued saying that the signatures were not valid,” said Yusho Head Chef and Owner Matthew Merges. Merges is also head chef of A10, which opened in Hyde Park this fall.
Robin Kaufman (A.B. '65), a resident of the 5300 South Kimbark block, was instrumental in launching the suit against Yusho, which claimed that four signatories of the petition wished to revoke their signatures, falling short of the two-thirds majority necessary for Yusho to attain a liquor license.
The Circuit Court of Cook County judge did not allow them to revoke, according to Kaufman, and the lawsuit was dismissed on December 17.
Kaufman criticized the University for gathering the petition signatures in a manner that she described as coercive. She stressed that many residents within the precinct lived in one of two buildings, one owned by the University and the other by Mac Property Management.
“The tenants [in the University-owned] building were called by their management repeatedly and asked to go to a lawyer to sign the petitions,” Kaufman said. “They were given very little information about what it really involved…Some people were afraid that their lease might not be renewed if they didn’t sign. It felt to them like a threat.”
Although the liquor license lawsuit was dismissed, some residents seek to appeal the case.
But Merges looks to the restaurant’s future. “We’ve gotten really great reception from the residents for A10. We’re just excited to give them another offering of what we do,” he said.