Mellini Monique was listening to a sermon when the minister said, “Hey, whatever you have, whatever is in your bag, God has given you to reach people.” At that point, Monique had to ask herself: what was in her bag? What did she have to offer? Popcorn.
It was just by chance,” said Ayisha Strotter, describing the decision she made with her mother, Margo, that transformed the two into restaurateurs. Ain’t She Sweet Café opened in Bronzeville in 2006. The mother-daughter team created a community out of the restaurant with its vibrant, down-home feel, and they met a demand for quality food with service in the neighborhood. Now, they’ve used their success to open a second location in Beverly; the new restaurant opened its doors on March 6.
Stacks of shelves, repurposed. In the Hyde Park storefront at the intersection of 57th Street and Harper Avenue that formerly housed Southside Hub of Production, a cultural center, and before that O’Gara & Wilson—Chicago’s oldest bookstore before it moved to Indiana in 2013—now stands 57th Street Wines, the neighborhood’s newest small business: a specialty wine and liquor store. At the shop’s grand opening last Friday, distributors set up tasting tables on the store’s boldly checkered floor tiles (restored from the space’s bookstore days), while customers met and mingled, wine samples in hand. The trio behind the store, owner Steven Lucy and co-workers Bex Behlen and Derrick Westbrook, were present in their semi-formal best, directing customers to shelves not unlike the ones that held volumes of books less than four years ago. This time, their contents concerned neither genre nor author, but red and white .
Nicole Bond, a writer and performance poet, was interviewed by Chloe Hadavas for a story on food access in South Shore. The article explored the food desert that remains in South Shore after plans for a Mariano’s in the ill-fated Lakeside development were scrapped. She later joined Hadavas on WBEZ’s The Barber Shop Show to discuss the article, but came away from the interview with reservations. Bond, who has since joined the Weekly as Stage & Screen Editor, expands on those reservations, and the continued fight for food access in South Shore, in this editorial.
Though Whole Foods opened in Englewood in September, dozens of interviews with local residents reveal that perceptions of the high-end grocery store remain a barrier to accessing fresh produce.
This year has seen three high-end grocery stores open their doors for residents on the South Side, with much fanfare and with varying discussions of food accessibility. These stores—Mariano’s in Bronzeville and two Whole Foods, one in Englewood, the other in Hyde Park—are undoubtedly welcome additions to neighborhoods that have in the past been categorized as food deserts, in the case of the first two, but the issue still remains that thousands of Chicago residents live without access to healthy foods, especially fresh produce. Currently, Chicago has what the Illinois Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights deems “low food access zones” in Washington Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Pullman, West Pullman, Roseland, South Deering, and South Chicago.
Before Charles Barlow moved to South Shore earlier this year, he wanted to scope out the neighborhood. He looked up the local grocery stores, got in his car, and drove to the corner of 87th Street and Lake Shore Drive, where he expected to find a Mariano’s. Instead of fresh food, he was greeted by grassland and the promise of future development.
At first glance, the Whole Foods Market on the corner of 63rd Street and Halsted Street looks like any other. Look a little closer, though, and surprising details begin to surface. The new grocery store, which opened in late September, showcases subtle design elements, courtesy of the interior design firm 555 International and its mastermind, James Geier. From the train track motifs on aisle signs that reference Englewood’s history as a railroad hub, to the geometric patterns that mark the checkout counter numbers, the store is strung together by visual threads interwoven by Geier and his team.
The weather outside was unseasonably warm, a balmy sixty-four degrees in early November, and the pies inside the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club were even warmer in spirit. Pie has the longstanding reputation of bringing Americans together, perhaps better than any other food. The New York Times, as noted in an op-ed from 1902, even went so far as to attribute the success of the American people to their love of pie. The annual South Side Pie Challenge is a prime example of just how special this food is.
For more than thirty years prior to its departure, Edwardo’s served a lot of spinach and pesto deep dish pizzas in its spot on 57th Street. Then Packed: Dumplings Reimagined rolled in with much fanfare, but evaporated in less time than it takes to steam a dumpling stuffed with locally sourced, in-season produce and humanely raised proteins.