By Matthew J Splant
LANSING, Ill. (June 13, 2018) – Many things have changed in Lansing over the past 30 years, but three businesses have managed to remain strong. In 1988 local restaurant JJ Kelley’s, insurance agent Joe LaBella, and ornamental iron makers Chicago’s Finest Ironworks all opened their doors. Each one has their own story to tell, but together as members of the business community they have helped shape Lansing over the years.
This is the first in a four-part series. Each of the next three articles will focus on one of the businesses.
JoEllyn and Vince Kelley, husband and wife owners of JJ Kelley’s, opened their doors in the summer of 1988. Each had a background in running restaurants and bars in other towns. When it came to selecting a location, Vince was certain the spot in Lansing would be excellent. One or two other restaurants had been there over the years. However, not being familiar with Lansing, JoEllyn had doubts about the location that her husband talked her into selecting. She said it was “off the beaten path” and “you couldn’t find it if you had a map.” Time went on and people were able to find the restaurant. It was about 10 to 15 years ago when JJ Kelley’s started giving back to the community. It is something they still do to this day. One area of interest to them is the military. They have a wall honoring veterans and those still in active service. Make sure you visit the West wall of the bar are.
For Joe Labella, opening his State Farm Insurance Agency in Lansing was a relatively easy decision. He was born and raised here. In his own words, “I knew everybody; everybody knew me. It felt like a good fit.” On April 1, 1988, Labella opened his agency in Lansing. Prior to Lansing, his agency was in South Holland, and prior to that it was in Harvey. Insurance wasn’t Labella’s first occupation. His background was as a TF South business teacher from 1981 to 1988. His decision to change careers stemmed from one too many lay-offs from the school. Thirty years later, Labella’s business success allows him to be generous back to the community—by supporting youth sport leagues, for example. Kids walking around in Lansing can often be seen wearing Joe LaBella State Farm t-shirts. And as Joe says, they wear it like a “badge of honor.”
Chicago’s Finest Ironworks was started by Brian Hardy, Village of Lansing Trustee, and John Micun on October 30, 1988. Originally located on Washington Street, in Lansing, in one building, they quickly grew and expanded to a second building on Washington Street. In 1996 they purchased the building on Chicago Avenue, which is their current location. When choosing Lansing they found the location to be “geographically best,” says Hardy. It allows them to get to places like the north suburbs, Chicago, northwest Indiana, and up to New Buffalo, Michigan. These “modern-day blacksmiths,” as Hardy calls himself and his crews, can recreate or create almost anything requested of them. Everything is custom-made, and they can accommodate almost any size project. But, it’s the little things that they also do for people that make Chicago’s Finest a unique blacksmith. To this day, people will bring things by like snowblowers, BMX bikes, lawn mowers. They all need to have something that a modern-day blacksmith can fix.
The owners of these businesses know each other. They also speak very well of each other. This is not surprising given the quality of the products each business produces. Throughout the Village of Lansing, residents will tell you how delicious the food is at JJ Kelley’s, how respectable and honest Joe LaBella is, or how beautiful the quality products being manufactured are at Chicago’s Finest. They even use each other for their services. JJ Kelley’s and Chicago’s Finest both use Joe Labella State Farm for their insurance. JJ Kelley’s is used to take employees to for group functions by the other two businesses. Chicago’s Finest recently did some work for JJ Kelly’s. Some of them knew each other growing up. And one business owner’s wife works for Joe Labella.
- JJ Kelley’s is located at 2455 Bernice Avenue in Lansing. Call 708-474-9977 for more information.
- Joe LaBella State Farm Agency is located at 3436 Ridge Road in Lansing. Call 708-895-8900 to learn more.
- Chicago’s Finest Ironworks is located at 17564 Chicago Avenue in Lansing. Call 708-895-4484 for services and pricing.