Photo by Miranda Ploss

My family has lived in Chatham since the late 50s, when my great-grandmother moved from her Park Manor home in Greater Grand Crossing and purchased a six-flat building on 82nd and Prairie. 

Nana, or, as the world knew her, Adele Devera Pryor, was a woman who wore many hats. She was an educator, activist, and community leader, on top of being a mother and the matriarch of her family. 

My Nana grew up in the South during the Great Depression, the daughter of two former slaves who were emancipated late in their childhood. Despite everything against her, she became. Nana, following her eldest sister, moved north to Chicago. She owned and flipped multiple properties, earned a master’s in education, and established a legacy of dedication and perseverance that would last generations to come. 

After much success in real estate, moving throughout Bronzeville, then to Park Manor, my Nana chose Chatham as the community to take root in. She taught for many years at Ruggles Elementary on 78th and Prairie, and attended the Congregational Church of Park Manor on 70th and King Dr. 

My grandmother, known affectionately as Madear, attended Hirsch High School on 77th and Ingleside, where she was one of eight Black students. A couple of years after graduating, she married her high school sweetheart in historic fashion, being one of the first Black couples to be married at Holy Name Cathedral. Starting a new family, they set down roots in Chatham.

My mother, while growing up in Chatham, attended Jane A. Neil Elementary, Ruggles Elementary, and Arthur Dixon School before going to Lindblom Technical High School (later renamed Lindblom Math and Science Academy) with a bevy of other Chatham kids. Time and a life of her own drew my mother away from Chatham physically, but the loving and warm neighborhood was always in her heart.

In the summer of 1997, just before I turned five, my mother decided to relocate back to the community that raised her, back to the block she grew up on. Since then, excluding my time away in college, I have called Chatham home. When I was younger, my favorite thing to do besides going to Cole Park, or riding my bike with friends, was to walk. As a kid, I would walk all over Chatham. I walked to school with my neighbors, to various friends’ houses to assemble the squad for our next adventure, to the gas station on 83rd and King Dr. or Chatham Foods on 79th and Calumet to get snacks. While living here I have done many things because of, with, and for my community, from Girl Scouts to community beautification, mentoring, and more. Yet and still, a peaceful walk around my neighborhood gives my adventurous heart the most joy. Over time, all things change and in the span of my nearly three decades here I have been privileged to witness Chatham evolve. During my walks now I get to reminisce while enjoying what Chatham is today.

One of the best things about Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing are the neighborhoods themselves, so what better way to explore them than by taking a walk through the community? Today, I invite you to do just that, by sharing my own observations and photographs.

Neighborhood captain Miranda Ploss is a fourth generation Chatham resident. She is a purpose driven creative helping people tell their stories and be seen.

  • Walking Tour of Chatham and Grand Crossing

    Walking through both Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing you are guaranteed to see some of the most breathtaking picturesque blocks in the city. With well-maintained properties, manicured lawns, clear bright skies, and big full trees it’s hard not to stop and stare as you walk around.

    Photo by Miranda Ploss
    Photo by Miranda Ploss

    I’m not sure whether or not there is a secret competition as to which neighborhood has the best decorated/landscaped porches and front yards, but the one-two punch that is Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing would definitely take the purse!

    Photo by Miranda Ploss
    Photo by Miranda Ploss

    From custom additions like butterflies and stone statues to all-encompassing foliage, and everything in between, Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing boast of beautifully designed homes.

    If you’re like me, you probably get caught up in the details and there are so many to stop and marvel at while walking through the neighborhood. If you’re an avid photographer or simply a hobbyist I can promise you will have a splendid time on this neighborhood walk.

    As a neighborhood evolving with the times, you’ll see many homes with modernized exteriors, second floor additions, and even full rehabs.

    Taking a walk through this neighborhood is essentially a nature walk, with trees of all different types and sizes, rare insects often not seen, and so many residents growing all types of flowers and foliage. The crisp air and bright sunshine almost make you forget that you’re in a bustling city. 

    You never know what you’ll find while walking through Chatham/Greater Grand Crossing. You can come across anything… a faux deer hiding amongst shrubbery, cool old school cars, a small custom pond, or a personalized street sign.

  • Best Story of Resilience: Harold’s Chicken Shack No. 55

    If you’re from the city, or have been here for a little while, you’ve probably been asked the question, Harold’s or Remus? Well, being the South Sider that I am, it has always been Harold’s!

    However, there is a follow-up question when you pick Harold’s: Which one? 

    That answer is the Harold’s on 87th. It’s not just the best on the South Side, it’s the best in the city. Opened in 1992 by Percy Billings, it can easily be called the mecca of fried chicken.

    As a kid, if getting chips and candy from the gas station was equivalent to getting gold, getting some Harold’s from 87th was like finding diamonds. One of the most exciting parts of the Harold’s experience was walking through the back door. I felt like Sincere in the beginning of Belly. From the lens of a child the world is so massive, yet everything you experience feels like it is yours and yours alone. So going to Harold’s made me feel exclusive, like I was one of the VIPs that had their own private entrance. 

    In growing up, and gaining the ability to take myself places whenever I felt like it, I would often find myself at Harold’s late at night, during the week and especially on weekends, waiting patiently for my six-wing with mild sauce and sometimes my large gizzard. If you didn’t know, they make the best gizzards I have ever had, and I will not order them anywhere else. Weekend nights at Harold’s was definitely something to experience; you never knew who you would run into or how long of a wait there would be… So when I found out they opened an express location on the other side of the Dan Ryan I felt like I unlocked a cheat code. 

    From that point on whenever I wanted some Harold’s and the location on 100 W. 87th St. was crowded I would go right to 8653 S. State St. and place my order. 

    The Harold’s on 87th will forever be a staple in my coming of age, just like a few other businesses I was able to witness growing up in Chatham. They showed me that Black people are not just capable of accomplishing but also thriving, supporting themselves and the community around them. 

    So in July of 2020, in the midst of experiencing a magnitude of loss on so many levels, I was saddened to hear that the beloved location that held so many memories was closing. When I first found out a part of me panicked, because so many businesses I grew up with in Chatham had gone out of existence over the years. I did not want to lose another pillar of the community. 

    Naturally, I was overjoyed to find out that they were not closing completely, but rather adapting to the changes thrust upon them. The Express location has become their primary location and they now have two food trucks that operate throughout the city and are also available for private events. You can often find one of their food trucks operating in the parking lot near their original location.

    Change can be devastating to a business. The resilience of Harold’s to persevere and remain open when so many businesses of its generation have shut their doors entirely is inspiring. Despite the challenges—of people being unaware of the Express location and its relation to the former location, and limited parking—Harold’s No. 55 is doing well, according to Bryce Billings, daily operations manager and grandson of Percy Billings. 

    When asked about the impact the community has had on Harold’s, Bryce Billings had this to say: “Oh, it’s a big part. Chatham has been with [Percy Billings] for years, since he started over there, about thirty years ago. He got a ton of love from them, they have always supported him and that’s what he thrives off of. That’s what he looks forward to every day.”

    It’s safe to say that Harold’s will always be a part of Chatham’s past, present, and future.

    Harold’s Chicken Shack No. 55 Express, 8653 S. State St. Open daily, 11am–midnight. (773) 874-8653.

  • Di Bess Yard Collide: Just Jerk Cafe

    Ihave never been to Jamaica, but something deep within me tells me that the food at Just Jerk Cafe at 119 E. 79th St. is truly authentic, which makes perfect sense considering two-thirds of the ownership were born and raised in Jamaica. They are more than worthy of being a Best! Located in the restaurant space attached to Duke’s Lounge, they have proven their value and quality after being open for more than ten years in a space where other restaurants could barely stay open for more than a year or two. 

    I spent a lot of time there during my childhood, in the back office at Duke’s, learning about business from my aunties, or in the apartments upstairs hanging out with my cousins, as Duke’s and the building itself are owned by close family friends. For the longest time, there was a Chinese restaurant in that space. After closing in the early 2000s, many other restaurants came and went, and there even were some years where the space was just vacant. So in 2011 when Just Jerk Cafe opened, I was super excited that another Black-owned restaurant had opened in Chatham. Aside from knowing just how amazing their food is and being a regular customer, I didn’t know much about the business or its owners: J.R., Gia Lake and her husband. 

    In an in-depth conversation with Gia about Just Jerk Cafe and its impact on Chatham, I learned that she and her husband had an affinity for the South Side and wanted to support the community while providing jobs for the people that live here. As for the rest, I think it’s best that her words speak for themselves.

    Why did they choose this location to open their restaurant?

    People rely on public transport for their jobs. So having something that’s in the city on the South Side that might be in their neighborhood, or not too far that they had to commute. That it would give them a chance to have a job.

    How do you feel about Chatham and your time that you’ve spent here thus far as a business?

    So love Chatham. I had family in this area for a long time. I actually grew up in Bronzeville, but my family are all [on the] South Side, like [deep] South Side. So 79th street, my grandmother is over east, their first house when they moved from the low end [was in the Greater Grand Crossing] area. So we’ve kind of always had an affinity for this kind of area. As a business owner in this area, I can’t picture us being somewhere else. I mean, of course we have kinda considered it and said like, ‘Oh well could we maybe open up a second location? Are we robust enough to be able to do that yet? If for some reason something happened and we couldn’t be here? (with the idea of gentrification right).’ I do know they’re planning a kind of project for 79th and State. So in kind of thinking about that, we don’t know what else would be home and this is truly home for us. That’s what’s kept us here as a business. I don’t know if [there is another neighborhood that] would capture our customer base, the people we end up [meeting]. There are some people that come from as far as [the] south suburbs. We have people that come from Indiana, the West Side. They’ll call us and say, ‘Hey please don’t put my food away. We’re coming all the way off of 290 from the West Side,’ and we’re like ‘Ok, no worries. We will put your food to the side. We won’t give your food away.’ They’re like, ‘No cause I know that you guys will sell out of things.’ I think, being able to be here, a staple of this area and this community as we’ve reopened.

    Which I don’t know if you were aware, that we actually had to close for like three months, because someone ran into the building. We closed, the accident happened May 30, [2022] and we just opened back up [Aug 22, 2022].

    Coming back, being open and hearing the outpour of people that are like, ‘Omg I’m so glad that you guys were back, I thought you guys weren’t gonna reopen.’ People saying, ‘Oh I live around the corner, I always come to your restaurant. I always ride down 79th, I see you guys. I kept checking, riding by to see if  maybe you guys opened back up.’ You know, people were calling and saying ‘Oh I wasn’t sure if you guys relocated.’ Calling the number to see if maybe that was what happened. To know how we do truly impact the community, was just like, for me coming back and us being reopen was definitely touching. [Be]cause I guess I just didn’t really think about how much we were, like I knew what we wanted to be able to do, but I guess I didn’t realize how many people really did love our food and love that we’re here. You know, [some people] would have felt maybe a little bit of a void had we moved somewhere else.

    What’s something special about Just Jerk Cafe that people should know?

    Something special, I mean other than we put just a ton of love and care into the food. Not to say that other restaurants maybe don’t do it. I mean in the restaurant industry you kinda hear different things, different stories. 

    We intentionally show people their food before they leave. I know in some other restaurants you can just like get your food packed up, [and you leave]. That’s part of the experience that we feel you should have coming into the restaurant, is [to] see what your food looks like, [and] know that you have everything correct. We want to make sure that you’re happy with your food before you leave. So it’s not a situation where you get all the way home and then something is missing. Or, again thinking about some people may be traveling from pretty far or just sometimes them coming from around the corner, but having to leave back outta the house, come back to the restaurant. That’s just so disappointing when that’s something you’re intending to be able to eat, your food. You’re like ‘hey I’m excited about my food,’ and then you open it up and it’s not what you were expecting. So that’s one thing that we really have always kept, even when we’re busy. A lot of times, people have gotten so used to our food, some people that we have that are the regulars, they will come in, they’ll be like ‘y’all don’t gotta show me this food, I know its gon be good.’ So that is a thing where I’m like oh that feels great, they know that we don’t even have to, they’re trusting us to know that they don’t even have to look at their food. That they know that it’s gonna be good. 

    Then I mean, it’s fresh food, we’re not doing frozen quick-ready kind of cooking. The chicken, we’re buying fresh not frozen chicken. From an expense stand point, for us that is more expensive in terms of chicken, but I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about that when they’re ordering food. Some restaurants maybe don’t necessarily think about that, they’re just like ‘hey I’m trying to cut costs as much as possible,’ and I get that. We just don’t want to sacrifice on that, when it comes to getting people fresh food.

    I truly hope this added insight into the passion, consideration, and purpose behind Just Jerk Cafe will bring you in to grab a bite. Because once you get to experience the warming and inviting atmosphere and you’ve tried their food, you’ll definitely become a regular!

    Just Jerk Cafe, 119 E. 79th St. Monday–Saturday, 11:30am–9pm; Sundays, closed. $3.50–$20. (773) 846-2232.

  • Best Commitment to Community: Stephanie Hart of Brown Sugar Bakery

    As a young Black woman growing up on the South Side, I didn’t see tangible contemporary examples of business owners I could see myself in. That was until I got the opportunity to meet Stephanie Hart, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery.

    I first met her when I was in the sixth grade. My mom is in love with chess pie, a southern classic that most bakeries seldom make. So when she found out that Stephanie made her most cherished treat we became regulars. At that time the bakery was located just off of 75th and Evans. 

    Over time my mother and Stephanie got closer and our visits to Brown Sugar Bakery grew longer, as they would always sit and chat for a while. What I didn’t fully understand then was that I had been given a rare opportunity to witness purpose at work. It is because of the access granted by my mother’s connection to Stephanie that I got a closer view than most of the beginnings of Brown Sugar Bakery. 

    Through the years, as Brown Sugar Bakery and Stephanie grew in notoriety and acclaim, I’ve cheered her success as my own. The pride I feel in constantly seeing Stephanie get the notice she more than deserves truly cannot be encapsulated in words. It makes my spirit rejoice. 

    With the level of attention the bakery has received over the years, she could have relocated the bakery elsewhere, to places that most would assume to be more profitable or beneficial to her business. However, Stephanie is committed to the South Side, committed to Greater Grand Crossing, committed to 75th Street. 

    It’s not just the delicious treats that make Brown Sugar Bakery an ultimate best, but the passion and commitment to community exhibited by its phenomenal owner Stephanie Hart. 

    Note: I got the opportunity to speak with Stephanie. Not only did we speak about the importance of community and having spaces to enjoy in our own neighborhood, but I was also able to give her her flowers. Read the full interview here

    Brown Sugar Bakery, 328 E. 75th St. Open Tuesday–Saturday, 10am–6pm; Sunday 12pm–5pm. (773) 224-6262.

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