The kitchen of St. Ailbe’s Catholic Church, located in Calumet Heights, was filled on the evening of April 5, with people and smells. It smelled good, like something frying.
When Jimmy Li first moved to Bridgeport in 1984, he was one of the few Asian immigrants to live in the neighborhood. Over seventy-six percent of residents at the time were white, twenty percent identified as Hispanic or Latino, and less than one percent were African-American. The Asian population was all but unaccounted for by authorities until the 1990 census, which reported that they constituted 16 percent of the population.
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.