Bettie Lou’s is giving up its Andersonville storefront for its food truck after years of construction problems
ANDERSONVILLE — For four years, chef Kelly Davison ran a popular soul food spot in Andersonville while dealing with constant flooding, pest infestations and other issues with her landlord.
Now, Davison is charting a new course for her business after years of building problems, she said: She’s converting Bettie Lou’s into a food truck business.
Bettie Lou’s food truck debuted in August at Taste of Andersonville, where Davison served the restaurant’s signature dishes like jerk chicken and “soul rolls.”
Bettie Lou’s has left its location at 5633 N. Ashland Ave. That same month, after what Davison said was the final straw: a water shutoff to the building that sidelined her work for several days. The building has failed three consecutive inspections and faces a lawsuit from the city, records show.
“It’s been very stressful for about five years,” Davison said. “Red flag after red flag. But I just wanted it to work. When you invest so much into this, including blood, sweat and tears, you don’t want to just pack up and leave.”
“I felt like I was crying for help while I was about to be buried.”
Davison opened Bettie Lou’s in August 2019, bringing a soul food-inspired restaurant to Andersonville’s business district. The restaurant opened in the large building that occupies the square block bounded by Ashland Street, Olive Street, Clark Street and Hollywood Boulevard, a building that includes 22 retail spaces and 76 apartments.
The restaurant gained a following, but problems with the storefront started relatively quickly, Davison said.
Workers discovered the furnace was not working when they tried to turn on the heat that winter. The situation was never properly repaired, and heating issues continued throughout the restaurant’s time in place, Davison said.
In 2020, a customer of Bettie Lou’s was waiting inside for his order when a leak occurred in the ceiling, getting the customer wet, Davison said.
The leak was never repaired, and Bettie Lou’s stopped using that portion of its dining room, Davison said.
“I was so embarrassed. I was waiting for the customer to file a lawsuit against me,” Davison said. “We lost that part of the restaurant a long time ago.”
Flooding problems plagued the restaurant from that point on. Some days, she said, Davison would come to work and find she couldn’t open it because of leaks or flooding.
The 2021 flood caused “catastrophic” damage to the storefront, when water began cascading through the ceiling “like a waterfall in the middle of the restaurant,” Davison said.
Bettie Lou’s and the building’s other tenants have also dealt with serious pest problems.
Davison said restaurant workers could hear pests roaming the ceilings, and cockroaches were falling through the ceiling into the restaurant. A dead rodent was once found in the kitchen.
The restaurant failed a health inspection in September 2022, where inspectors found more than 50 mouse droppings, city records show. The business passed re-inspection the following week.
Bed bugs were also found in the building’s apartments, city and court records show.
Davison said she spent about $80,000 to repair the space, including cleaning up after the flood and invasion, improving the plumbing and electrical systems and replacing damaged ceiling tiles.
The breaking point came this summer. After flooding and electrical problems shut down the area for an extended period in the spring, Betty Lou and other tenants were without water for more than a week during the August heat wave, Davison and other sources said.
The restaurant had already invested in a food truck by that point. She said Davison even paid to install a loading zone outside her storefront, as Davison used the food truck as a kitchen when her building was inoperable.
At the same time, Davison was fighting an eviction notice from her landlord, Hill Crest Properties. The eviction case was filed for back rent owed, but Davison said she and the landlord reached an agreement to reduce rent payments as a way to help with the construction issues, she said.
With water problems in August, Davison told Hill Crest she was leaving the building voluntarily.
“I felt like I was crying for help as I was being buried,” Davison said.
A representative for Hillcrest Real Estate, based in Edgewater, declined to comment.
Years of failed inspections of the city
Davison’s problems with the building and landlord are in her rearview. However, the city is seeking to correct a series of problems plaguing the building, as its owner recently sold the complex.
Records show the building failed three inspections conducted this year.
Officials issued 59 citations in one inspection, including a leaky roof, bedbugs and all exterior corners with serious construction issues that pose a danger to pedestrians, records show. The inspection noted water leaking down the walls and ceilings of multiple storefronts in the complex.
Since Bettie Lou’s opened in 2019, the building has failed six out of 15 inspections.
The building owner is also facing a lawsuit from the city over previous failed inspections.
The lawsuit was filed in 2021 against a legal entity associated with Hill Crest Real Estate, controlled by Slobodan Pavlovic, Cook County court records show. City officials are asking a judge to force the owner to correct building code violations and pay fines associated with the violations.
The suit also asks a judge to consider declaring the property abandoned and appointing a caretaker for the building, which would transfer ownership of the property to a third party, court documents show.
The trial date is late November, but the case could become a new owner’s problem by then.
Pavlovich and his family recently sold the building for $10.9 million, according to the Keyser Group, which brokered the deal. The buyer has not been revealed, and the property transaction has not yet been listed in public property records.
The city filed a lawsuit last year against the property, legally declaring that the new owner was on the hook to make improvements to the property, records show.
Pavlovich could not be reached for comment.
After Davison’s experiences with the Ashland Avenue storefront, Betty Lou’s debut as a food truck business was “awesome,” with Andersonville neighbors coming out in droves to support the restaurant, she said.
She said it was a bittersweet reminder of the loyalty Betty Lou had in her previous place.
“That’s why it’s so sad,” she said. “This is our neighborhood. It’s kind of frustrating that we’re not home right now.”
Bettie Lou’s food truck appearance schedule can be found on her social media accounts. She is still taking catering orders and will serve fried turkeys for Thanksgiving, Davison said.
The plan is for the food truck to help the company build up a financial reserve for a new restaurant space, preferably in Andersonville, Davison said.
“I’ve had a wonderful career,” she said. “Now, it’s dwindled so we can find a new location.”
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