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End of an era? Moo & Oink stores now closed, in bankruptcy

The Moo   Oink 7158 S. Stony Island. A group investors is seeking buy stores intact. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

The Moo & Oink at 7158 S. Stony Island. A group of investors is seeking to buy the stores intact. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 15, 2011 9:13AM

All four Moo & Oink stores are shuttered, 200 employees are out of work with no severance and a judge on Friday placed the company in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Courtney E. Barr, a lawyer for First Midwest Bank, Moo & Oink’s biggest creditor, told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jack Schmetterer on Friday that the bank will soon ask to take over Moo & Oink’s assets and sell them in order to get some of its money back.

But a group of mostly African-American investors is working to purchase Moo & Oink intact. The iconic meat retailer has been around for 150 years.

“The most important thing is securing the employees’ jobs,” said Exavier B. Pope, principal owner of The Pope Firm in Chicago and the attorney representing the investor group.

The investors are not identifying themselves, but insiders say they are being advised by Wallace Sims, a Chicago businessman who four years ago led investors in an unsuccessful bid for Jays Foods Inc.

Moo & Oink lawyer Rick Firfer said Friday that “the company would like nothing more than to strike a deal with Mr. Sims or another community representative to preserve jobs.”

The Moo & Oink employees’ union, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1546, and the union pension and health and welfare funds sought the Chapter 7 bankruptcy because they allege that Moo & Oink owes the fund more than $3 million, and federal law requires such a petition when payments are late, a union spokesman said.

Moo & Oink disagrees that it owes $3 million to the pension fund, Firfer said.

Employee spokeswoman Mary Steele, 50, said they were told on Sept. 9 that they would lose their jobs, were offered no severance and had to show up in court before they received the pay they were due for unused vacation time.

Steele, of Bronzeville, had worked for Moo & Oink for 29 1/2 years and was counting on retiring in April 2012.

“This is hard. This is rough,” said Lorenzo Smith, 49, who worked for 12 years in Moo & Oink’s shipping and receiving department. Smith has nine children, bought a house in Gary, Ind., two years ago, and is worried about the difficult job market.

Elizabeth Smith, 58, a 40-year Moo & Oink veteran who managed the store at 7158 S. Stony Island Ave., said, “It’s a big letdown after all of the years of service.”

Smith cares for her 37-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and relied on Moo & Oink as her sole source of income.

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