Tis the season for warm weather, sunshine, and, of course, ice cream!
Yahya Muhammad, the CEO and president of Shawn Michelle’s, first remembers becoming interested in homemade ice cream as a young boy playing in the South Side Little League. A woman would often sit on a bench with a bucket selling cups of melted homemade ice cream. He didn’t care that it wasn’t frozen; he just distinctly remembered the great taste.
During his college years and after work, he would experiment at home, cooking ice cream on a stove. It took him years to master the craft of churning and using the right amount of ingredients to create unique flavors wrought from old-fashioned homemade custard.
Then, in 1998, he purchased a storefront in Chatham and named the business Jabril’s Supreme Cream. The community was supportive, and Muhammad’s business flourished.
“We are only here today because of the strong support base,” Muhammad said.
A year after opening, he received news that his sister, Shawn Michelle, had been killed in a car accident on her way to work.
“Shawn was always into the culinary. She had her own culinary business baking cakes on the side,” Muhammad said. He changed the name of his business to Shawn Michelle’s in order to dedicate the business to her, and moved it down to 95th Street.
Muhammad decided to move his business once again because he felt it was important for Shawn Michelle’s to be in a central South Side location, easily accessible from the North and West Sides as well. “Bronzeville is rich with our cultural history and traditions in Chicago and I think that’s something that needs to be shared.”
Not only is the new location, housed in the historic Rosenwald building, a reflection of his family’s fun, loving personalities, but what you will find on the inside reflects their contagious energy, too.
When you walk through the doors you are greeted by vibrant Tiffany-blue walls, the staff’s bubbly personalities, and lively music. When it’s time to place your order, there is a chalkboard-style menu that lists several specialty flavors, like Honey Cinnamon Graham Cracker and Rainbow Coalition, as well as signature sundaes, like Lemon Pound Cake, and even cobblers to choose from.
According to Muhammad, some customers find it difficult to choose a favorite flavor—many have about three. Customers will be happy to know these special flavors—which you might not find at any everyday ice cream parlor—are not going anywhere anytime soon.
“If we dare remove some of them flavors…” Muhammad chuckled. “Boy, we would have to pull rolling shutters down, and hide and run.”
Muhammad also believes in giving back to the community. Staff recently had an opportunity to participate in an Earth Day cleanup on the blocks adjacent to Shawn Michelle’s.
“It’s alright to be in business, but for me, business should serve the community and we should always remember who the object of everything that we do is,” Muhammad said. “It’s those who patronize it. It’s the community.”
By taking an active role in Bronzeville, Muhammad hopes to expand his business in the near future by opening locations in other Black communities, like South Shore, and maybe even outside Illinois, in Atlanta. Atlanta, to Muhammad’s mind, is the center of the South—and a great melting pot for both his business and Black Americans.
But above all, Muhammad wants everyone to know: “It’s really homemade ice cream!”
Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream, 46 E. 47th St. $3.99–$16.75. Tuesday–Thursday, noon–8pm; Friday and Saturday, noon–9pm; Sunday, noon–6pm. (773) 615-3238. shawnmichelles.com
Maple Joy is a contributor to the Weekly. She is from Cleveland but has lived in the Chicago area for almost five years. She is obsessed with Chicago food. In her spare time, you can find her biking on one of the Chicago trails or hanging out at a Chicago event or festival.