Medill Reports: To B or Not to BYOB

Ever wonder why some restaurants on Devon Avenue are BYOB and others balk when you pull out a bottle?

Walking up and down this bustling strip between Clark and Western avenues, you’ll spot plenty of Indian and Pakistani restaurants providing aromatic, spice-laden dishes. But try ordering a beer with your meal. You’ll most likely be out of luck. Muslim owners must balance customer preferences with Islam’s prohibition of alcohol in deciding whether to seek liquor licenses or even uncork the beverages of customers who bring their own. About half a dozen restaurant staff recently interviewed said they won’t the touch the stuff or serve it.

Here are a few stories looking at the conundrum:

Respecting the community

Tonja Hussaini, 45, a Muslim manager of Chopal Kabab and Steak on Devon near Bell Avenue, said its servers will uncork bottles brought by customers, but they’d rather patrons not bring alcohol at all.

“When you contradict your faith to make money, people will wonder if they can trust you,” she said. If they served liquor, Muslim customers would question their commitment to teachings in other dietary areas, such as whether their meat is zibiha or halal, meaning it was slaughtered properly and with prayer for the animal’s life, she said.

Chopal caters to a variety of Muslim religious needs. In addition to dietary requirements, they also provide partitions to women who are fully veiled and believe they should not be seen in public.

Chopal’s neighbors across Bell Avenue at Mazza Barbeque, where a sign above the door proclaims in Arabic and English, “All praise to Allah,” goes a step further. They chose not to seek a license, said Mujeb Ahmed, 38, a manager, but they also decline to uncork bottles that patrons bring.

“Everybody can come and eat, but we don’t want to serve any liquor,” Ahmed said.

Lassi lovers

Surina Mazzola, 25, a St. Charles native who lives in West Loop, drinks alcohol occasionally, but when she goes out to eat on Devon Avenue, she’d rather have a lassi, a yogurt drink made with either salt and spices or sugar and fruit juice.

“If I’m going all the way to Devon I want to get something that I can’t get at an American, or Italian or any other kind of ethnic restaurant,” she said.

Mazzola is Indian from the Jain faith, which does not stigmatize drinking, she said. Jain belief is more concerned with violence — including killing animals for food.

Mazzola is against eating meat, and said she can relate to the owners’ decisions not to serve food or beverages at odds with their ethics.

“I really enjoy going to places that don’t serve meat,” she said.

Jennifer Tani, 30, of Uptown, also loves the Indian food on Devon, and prefers non-alcoholic yogurt drinks or spiced tea to accompany it. She said in an e-mail that whether or not a place sells or serves alcohol doesn’t matter.

“That is never a factor for me in choosing a restaurant,” she said. “I love lassis and chai and usually order those to drink.”

Seeing the effects

The Quran, Islam’s holy book, and its prophetic tradition prohibit drinking and selling alcohol, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago office.

These views are rooted in concern about “the potential ramifications of alcohol consumption, ranging from broken homes caused by alcoholism to subhuman behavior caused by mental impairment,” Rehab said.

Though religious teaching also forbids selling alcohol, he acknowledges that some Muslims ignore it.

“I know Muslim shopkeepers who sell liquor,” Rehab said.

Christian liquor store owners

If you do bring your own beverage to a Devon restaurant, one of the few places to buy alcohol in the neighborhood is Adelphi Liquor at Devon and Western avenues. It is owned by an Iraqi Christian family, said several family members who work there.

Mike, 30, an employee and cousin of the owner who preferred not to give his last name, said the family has lived on Devon since coming to the U.S. in 1978. They haven’t had many problems with Muslim neighbors, some are even his customers.

“There are Muslims who drink,” he said.


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