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Joe Perillo in front of Hotel Chicago. /photo by Shia Kapos 0

Unflinching Joe Perillo takes inspiration from mom

July 10th, 2016

Luxury car dealer Joe Perillo has just given me a tour of his latest business venture–the Hotel Chicago boutique hotel on Jackson Boulevard. As we wrap up the walk-through, he asks hotel General Manager Imran Jivani to schedule a meeting with the housekeepers.

Perillo wants to tell them he’ll be offering bonuses that could put their salaries on par with earning $20 an hour.

Staffers have said the gesture is a little high given housekeepers there already earn $14 an hour–more than the $10.50 minimum wage. But Perillo insists, and there’s a personal reason.

“That could be my mom,” he says, pausing to compose himself as he recalls his late mother–a woman who worked odd jobs, including house cleaning, after Perillo’s father died due to health problems. Joe Perillo was just 13 at the time.

The plan to boost wages is a bright spot in a hotel project that’s been fraught with legal issues. Tenants of the former flophouse known as Hotel Rosemoor sued Perillo when they were forced to move out for the hotel revamp. The case dragged on for a year and a half before a judge told him to pay each tenant  $3,000.

Now comes another lawsuit–this one filed last week by a company that says Perillo is wrongly using the Hotel Chicago name.

LaSalle Hotel Properties, based in Bethesda, Md., owns the River North hotel called Chicago Hotel. Where’s that, you ask? It’s the hotel that for years was known as House of Blues Hotel before it was renamed the Hotel Sax and now stands as Hotel Chicago.

“They’re bigger than me but they’re not going to intimidate me with this lawsuit,” Perillo says, declining to comment further on the pending litigation.

The scrappy businessman and self-made millionaire didn’t go to college but knew from an early age how to work. He had a good role model in his mom, who he calls an inspiration for staying positive even in tough times.

Perillo started out selling Pontiacs in Lakeview. It was the mid-1970s, long before the neighborhood gentrified into the high-end community it is today. He was struggling to keep his business above water, he says, when a chance meeting with another car dealer led to him selling BMWs. It was a lucky break, Perillo says, and a game-changer.

Today, there are eight luxury-car franchises under his family-run umbrella.

Perillo, who enjoys cooking Italian peasant food and was once featured on Buddy Valastro’s “Cake Boss” TV show, has invested in other businesses, too. The Hotel Chicago is his first hotel venture.

The run-down rooming house once went unnoticed by drivers headed to Bulls and Blackhawks games at the nearby United Center. It caught Perillo’s eye, he says, because it was also near the Rush Hospital medical district.

“My nephew and I were in a ski accident in Colorado ( a few years ago). I tried to find a room to be close to him,” Perillo recalls, describing frustration at the difficulty.

It’s a sentimental story but Perillo acknowledges it’s business. As we leave Hotel Chicago, he at the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, Perillo says, “Google moved in. Soho House (private club) moved in. Randolph Street is going down. I knew we needed to be there.”

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