Chicago’s 63rd Street is known throughout America. Two fallen greats of the Chicago Drill scene, FBG Duck and King Von, made two iconic songs, “I’m from 63rd” and “Crazy Story,” which gave 63rd its fame in recent years. The 63rd bus connects east to west and there are multiple stops for the Red Line and the Green Line. Kennedy-King College is right there, and businesses from banks to grocery stores line up the street. I used to go to college every day using 63rd, as well as buying groceries and attending community meetings on this street. When I first heard about E.G. Woode and its goal of being part of the change that would make 63rd ground zero for future entrepreneurs, I was ecstatic because it was already a focal point of how myself and many others oriented themselves to the neighborhood.

According to a 2019 Block Club Chicago article titled “Can E. G. Woode transform Englewood?” architect Deon Lucas used former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Retail Thrive Zone grant to secure property on 63rd and May to develop a small-business incubator that opened on August 25. The collective includes Lucas’s architecture and engineering design collaborative Beehyyve, as well as Powell’s barbershop cooperative and college; a boutique consignment shop called Marie Wesley, a co-sharing workspace called Englewood Kitchen, a sports bar called Ellie’s Urban Grill, a coffee shop called Momentum, and a soul food restaurant called Pass The Peas. As someone who often leaves Englewood to spend my disposable income in other communities, often taking the 63rd Street bus or the train lines, I’ve been waiting for years to see this establishment open.

I chatted with Antoine Butler, owner of Ellie’s Urban Grille, to get a sense of what to expect and the kind of impact the collective will make. One of the founders of R.A.G.E., a civil servant, and a dedicated father and community member, he has never shirked on the possibility of empowering Englewood. I chatted with him over a week before the grand opening.

South Side Weekly: Can you explain what E.G. Woode is as a business incubator?

Antoine Butler: It’s a co-op with start-up entrepreneurs, Black start-ups, that distinctly wants to work with non-established entrepreneurs, because those are the people who are going to create more jobs. Only two have had physical spaces and the other four are start-ups, so it’s going to be interesting. Momentum and Powell’s have had physical spaces, but this will be the first time for others.

Will there be mentoring programs?

I try to stay away from the word program, but there will be a lot of mentorship and opportunities, really trying to start other people because the bigger picture is for everybody to move on and open another space with other entrepreneurs. Like the guy who is gonna be my chef, I’ll be planning for him to take over the space or we build him a new space and he starts his own restaurant. Each one, teach one.

What kind of ideas will your business be bringing to the table?

I want to support the community (sports) teams. We have the Ogden Park Vikings, Lindblom Park team, and I want to encourage them to stay into sports. Lots of sponsorships. I know the center on 69th just formed a basketball team so I’m thinking about sponsoring them now, out of pocket, to see what we can get going.

E.G. Woode speaks of being a place for entrepreneurs to utilize the space. Are there rates for the co-working spaces or ideas on how non-attached entrepreneurs can utilize E.G. Woode?

No rates yet. Part of the second floor will be a shared kitchen where people can come in. Say someone sells cookies, we have a kitchen where they can come in and increase their volume and bake twice as many cookies then they can bake somewhere else. That’s bringing their business up and we will probably be selling a lot of the products from locals who come and use the kitchen. We will be selling their products in the restaurant. I’m positive of that!

Speaking with Butler gets me more and more excited to know that not only can I go have an after-work brew in my community, but I will be helping my community with my disposable income. Englewood not only needs, but deserves, spaces where community members can enjoy themselves. Then more people will say, “I’m from 63rd.”

E.G. Woode, 1122 W. 63rd St. (312) 877-6747.

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