Embraced by pop culture, now canceled for Christian faith
Embraced by pop culture, now canceled for Christian faith
Anne Reed
Anne Reed
AFA Journal staff writer

Above left, the BLM fist painted over the pink wall of Nini’s Deli. Above right, Juan Riesco with his mother (center) and his late father (left) in front of the deli before it was shut down.

August 2021At the height of the 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) riots in downtown Chicago, Juan Riesco, co-owner of Nini’s Deli, was pressured to proclaim support of BLM. In addition to its widespread popularity, the Latino owned restaurant was operating in a minority neighborhood, making Riesco a sought-after voice in the highly charged social justice environment.

“I kept thinking I was avoiding the pushback by ignoring it,” Riesco told AFA Journal. “I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to address it and make my faith more public.”

Riesco carefully crafted a social media post that would reflect Nini’s position in a loving, truthful manner:

Nini’s Deli believes that all people are created equal in the image of God. We do not promote or agree with racism and hatred of any kind. In light of the current events, we want to let our city and nation know that we mourn with you. We pray for justice for George Floyd’s family, friends, and the entire community that is hurting. We believe that all black lives matter, and we know that only God can bring about the justice that is deserved. As a Christian, we stand against all injustice and will always serve our communities with love, grace, and integrity, no matter your race, gender, or background. We apologize for not making this statement earlier. We want to serve you, Chicago.

Rabid response
A firestorm of hostilities ensued. It started with an onslaught of one-star reviews on Yelp, the popular online reviewing platform where Nini’s had been the highest rated restaurant in Chicago and in the top 100 nationally.

Because the Riesco family had always focused on providing uniquely personal service and unparalleled cuisine, its popularity had extended into pop culture. Adidas had collaborated on a T-shirt, and Nike had designed a shoe in Nini’s honor. The Chicago White Sox had collaborated on a commercial, and the trendy deli’s ads were all over Chicago buses.

But the support of all the prestigious corporations immediately disappeared – each reversing course and publicly denouncing Nini’s. Social media, emails, and in-person communication quickly intensified to include threats of violence and even death.

The volatility became too much, and Nini’s employees quit their jobs. As difficult as it was for the entire Riesco family, Juan and his brother Jose were burdened for the souls of those persecuting them and saw the situation as an opportunity to share the gospel.

Sidewalk sordidness
Together with their pastor and other members of Metro Praise International (MPI), they took to the sidewalk with a microphone right outside the deli – on the same sidewalk where long lines of excited patrons had formed day after day.

Along with BLM symbols, LGBTQ flags with “666” printed on them flew in the gathering crowd. Riesco shared about his own sinful past, a lifestyle of homosexuality, thievery, and pagan worship. He shared how Jesus had delivered him in 2013, set him free, and given him purpose.

“The building was surrounded,” said Riesco. “They were throwing stuff at me, spitting at me, all different flavors of sin came out.”

It soon became evident that the BLM movement was not what it claimed. It was supported by a dark, spiritual undercurrent.

“I had to say verbatim exactly what they wanted to hear,” Riesco explained. “And then – only then – they said I would be able to still exist.”

Determined destruction
Protestors located and distributed personal addresses and employer information for members of the Riesco family and members of their church. Threatening notes were left on vehicles, and jobs were lost. The vicious treatment forced the Riescos to seriously consider the safety of their families.

Both Riesco brothers, their wives (both pregnant) and children, and their mother, packed up and fled the state in the middle of the night. The following day, rioters arrived by the thousands.

Nini’s was done. Rioters painted over the cheerful pink, exterior walls with black paint and a large, clenched fist symbol recognized by BLM and other movements heavily influenced by Marxism.

The Riescos originally headed to Florida, but when they realized they were being tracked electronically and their location was being made public, they changed course. Now in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for over a year, they have planted a growing church (a second campus of MPI), are regularly preaching on the streets of downtown Dallas, and making plans to open a new Nini’s Deli.

Resolute reality
The Riescos and other members of the Dallas MPI church plant have gained experiential understanding concerning the persecution of those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). They also grasp what it means to love and pray for their enemies who persecute them (Matthew 5:44).

“Had this been a few years before,” explained Riesco, “I would have been with them. I would have been spitting on the Christian. I would have been mocking God. I would have been slapping Bibles out of peoples’ hands – putting it on social media and laughing about it too. …

“This whole process has really shown me how wicked I was before Christ. And I really think that as believers we need to come to terms with how dark we were. How lost we were. And we need to say that without blushing. Why? Because it shows us how glorious and how merciful God was to us, and still is to this day.”

In the end, the Riesco family and the Chicago MPI church family stood together, recognizing they were not really facing a skin issue, but a sin issue. And they refused to adopt an ideology that runs counter to God’s Word – no matter the consequences.  

Some quotes were taken from Paint the Wall Black, a documentary available on YouTube, and from Riesco’s interviews on AFR’s The Hamilton Corner.

This could happen to anyone
Christian baker Jack Phillips, a man relentlessly persecuted for his refusal to apply his artistic talent to celebrate sin, has detailed the behind-the-scenes story in The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court.

It began in 2012 when he declined to create a custom cake celebrating a marriage between two men. Phillips defended himself before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and lost numerous court battles until the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2018, where he finally won. But that wasn’t the end. The lawsuits and harassment continued.

Jack heard the same question over and over: “Why not just make the cake?”

Life would have been so much easier. He would not have endured years of continuous harassment and death threats, and he would not have lost the most profitable part of his business – a consequence of the state’s demand that he either design same-sex wedding cakes or stop offering custom wedding cakes altogether.

The decade of fighting for his own rights and livelihood was far reaching. The purpose was bigger than himself. It was for every American. He fought, and continues to fight, so every person has the freedom to live and work in accordance with his or her own conscience.