Ed Claussen has seen the ups and downs of Little Italy on the city’s near West Side. Once dominated by the imposing towers of low-income housing projects, the area has been redeveloped into a mix-use project — and Claussen said it has been good for business.
Claussen, 65, is the owner of Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill.
“My goal was to have an American menu in the heart of Little Italy,” he said.
Claussen bought a run-down, graffiti-covered building on the corner of Taylor and Laflin streets in 1984. He was something of a trailblazer in a once-blighted neighborhood. He spent three years fixing up the building and then opened Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill in 1987.
Right in the heart of Little Italy, Hawkeye’s offers many traditional American items on the menu. The pizza is the most popular item with clientele and the restaurant is packed with high-definition television sets on almost every wall.
Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill opened during the years in which the ABLA (Jane Adams, Robert Brooks, Loomis Court, Grace Abbott, Robert Brooks) housing projects were occupied.
According to Claussen, there was more crime in the area when the projects were occupied. Theft and panhandling were the biggest problems in the neighborhood at the time.
“The neighborhood could never connect itself,” he said. “With the projects in the area and only a few businesses on Taylor Street, the neighborhood wasn’t the greatest. You had to watch out where you were walking when the projects were up.”
The ABLA homes were torn down in 2001 and the Chicago Housing Authority replaced the ABLA Homes with mixed-income housing by redeveloping the area. The complex — Roosevelt Square — is a new development designed and built by the Chicago Housing Authority. The goal of the design was to create a diverse and mixed-income neighborhood.
According to the CHA, developments like Roosevelt Square feature an array of housing types – townhouses, duplexes, condos and single-family homes.
Roosevelt Square has brought in many new businesses. According to thecha.org, since the development of Roosevelt Square, a new retail shopping center, new grocery store and a new state-of-the art fire station have been built. A new 12th district police station is being planned for the area, according to the housing authority website.
“My favorite part about working at Hawkeye’s is meeting all the various people that come in, and I enjoy getting to know the people from the area,” said Chris Kosrow, 21, a host at Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill. He is also student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“The atmosphere there is a little bit more like a restaurant than a bar; although as an employee I appreciate the fact that it isn’t rowdy,” said Kosrow.
Claussen said the redevelopment has “made a difference in the area. The expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago also has helped changed the clientele. We have a lot of students come in from the medical center and students from the university.”
Brett Curcio, 22, is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago pursuing his undergraduate degree in criminal justice.
“I come to Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill almost every time there is a sporting event going on,” said Curcio. “It’s a great place to come to and unwind from the books.”
Ed Claussen said he is happy and proud of the business he runs. He said he has no retirement plans anytime soon and he will continue to run and operate Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill.