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Sosa Taking Over M.J.’s Restaurant

September 23, 1999

CHICAGO (AP) _ Move aside, M.J. In this city’s gastronomy game, Slammin’ Sammy is stepping up to the plate.

Michael Jordan’s Restaurant will become Sammy Sosa’s Restaurant, a move prompted by declining sales at the basketball star’s eatery just north of downtown Chicago, said H. Gene Silverberg, a controlling partner in both restaurant ventures.

But he acknowledged the switch also is related to a rift between Jordan and the restaurant’s owners. Jordan apparently stopped eating at the restaurant after the owners rejected his ideas for making it more upscale, Silverberg said.

Jordan’s restaurant will be moved to a smaller location early next year, Silverberg said. He said sales at Jordan’s have slipped about 20 percent in the last couple of years, although it remained profitable.

The switch apparently is being made without Jordan’s approval; Silverberg said he doesn’t need it.

``Michael will respond in court, not through the media,″ Jordan attorney Fred Sperling said Thursday.

Jordan’s absence at the restaurant could account for some of the decline, Silverberg said. Unlike Jordan, Sosa will be required to make appearances when his restaurant opens by the start of next baseball season.

And by all accounts, Sosa is ready to play ball. He donned a chef’s hat at a news conference Thursday to announce the restaurant and even swung a 4-foot-long red fork. Sosa swinging a fork is the restaurant’s logo.

``No way would (Jordan) put on that hat,″ Silverberg said later. ``Sammy is still playful ... and we need that to make this work.″

For his part, Sosa said he’s going to consult with the chefs on the Spanish and American menu and has no problem appearing at the eatery.

``One reason I want to do this restaurant is to (thank) people from all over the world,″ said Sosa, who admits he can’t cook. ``I’ve never had a restaurant before. ... People will see me there quite often.″

Sosa said he had nothing to do with the decision to move Jordan’s restaurant and called him ``my hero.″

``He’s still the man in my heart,″ Sosa said. ``I love Michael.″

It is unclear whether it was the food, atmosphere or Jordan’s departure from basketball that led to the restaurant’s decline.

Food critics said the cuisine, basic ``American comfort food,″ was nothing to write home about. The decor _ a shrine to Jordan _ and gift shop were reminiscent of Planet Hollywood, another celebrity-heavy theme restaurant that fell on hard times, said Penny Pollack, dining editor at Chicago Magazine.

``I don’t think there is ever a reason to go back unless you had an out-of-town guest who really needed to go there,″ Pollack said.

Lunchtime customers had mixed opinions.

``I love the Cubs and Sammy, but Michael’s an icon in this city,″ said former Chicagoan Scott Neururer, 38, who was visiting from Los Angeles with his wife and baby. ``It’s sad to see anything related to Michael go away.″

But others said Jordan’s absence definitely dampened business.

Johnny ``Red″ Kerr, the Bulls’ first coach and a team announcer for the past 25 years, said people would crowd the restaurant if Jordan ate there.

``People packed the place when he was there,″ said Kerr, who also owned a restaurant for about five years. ``I don’t think the Jordan mystique is gone.″

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