Casa Índígō seeks help keeping Pilsen local — and keeping Starbucks out

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Mer Mansuria (with purple bandana) and his wife Carolina Mansuria (holding her daughter) run Casa Índígō with her mother and brothers. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

If you want to keep Pilsen local, this campaign is for you.

Casa Índígō just opened in September at 1314 W. 18th St. — and now it’s looking to expand but is in competition with the world’s largest coffee shop chain for a new space.

The business, owned by Pilsen resident Mer Mansuria and wife Carolina Landeros-Mansuria, prides itself on using ingredients and services from businesses located nearby, including Nuevo Leon bakery and El Popo Tortillas, and meat from Illinois farms. The restaurant is staffed by Landeros-Mansuria’s mother and brothers, who like her grew up in the neighborhood.

“We want to invest here. Pilsen is our home,” said Mansuria, who is of Indian descent and went to the University of Illinois at Chicago. He worked for years in eateries on the Near West Side before opening Casa Índígō. “We are the local kids that got an opportunity to get a restaurant, and now our minds are imagining bigger things.”

They hope to move closer toward those ambitions through an Indiegogo campaign that ends May 14 and seeks to raise $10,000 or more.

Mansuria, 37, said the campaign can help them increase hours and expand their menu, hire more local residents, and provide living wages and better health insurance options for workers.

“It’s a human right. We got to have health insurance,” Mansuria said. “You want your employees to be comfortable and happy in knowing their well-being is being looked after.”

They also need to replace $3,000 worth of knives and other supplies lost when their car was stolen from in front of the restaurant, and are looking for new equipment to be used at upcoming street festivals and a wood-fired grill. They also want to create their own delivery infrastructure.

Finally, they are looking for more kitchen space with an outdoor area that could hold a patio and serve as a community hub. While they found a spot they would like to move into on 18th Street, they are in competition with Starbucks to secure a lease. Yes, that Starbucks.

“Starbucks offered three times the amount we could, but we are hoping the local owner would lease it to us instead,” Mansuria said.

Starbucks declined to comment, and the building owner couldn’t be reached.

Mansuria has also started Rebel Owl, a creative group looking to do “awesome” things in Pilsen while maintaining the neighborhood’s identity. He wants to help open more small-concept restaurants in storefronts on 18th Street. Rebel Owl also wants to get involved with community efforts to create programs for neighborhood kids and to keep Pilsen affordable despite rising rents that threaten to displace longtime residents and businesses.

“It’s tough out here because you have these outside groups coming in that aren’t from Pilsen and buying all these storefronts,” Mansuria said. “That is the nature of business. It’s capitalism and we get it, so we are trying to hurry up and find some spots that are going to be for us.”

Casa Índígō mural outside its storefront restaurant, 1314 W. 18th St. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Casa Índígō mural outside its storefront restaurant, 1314 W. 18th St. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

For Landeros-Mansuria, just having the opportunity to own a restaurant along the major street in her neighborhood is a dream come true. Casa Índígō’s menu is inspired by Mexico City street food where her mother, Susana Nava, is originally from. Nava makes tortillas fresh every morning for the restaurant.

Landeros-Mansuria says the restaurant has strived to keep its prices affordable since an influx of high-priced dining on 18th Street has left some in her community feeling out of place.

“This is why the neighborhood feels like they are not being included in the kinds of development happening here because they can’t afford some of these restaurants,” Carolina said. “Everything we do here we ask our neighbors for suggestions before doing it.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member inReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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