Corry Williams
Owner, 345 Gallery

“I’ve been here three years now. This space used to be a church and was converted to an art gallery. It was one of the first art galleries on the West Side of Chicago. I was born and raised on the West Side. Our neighborhood needed a venue that represents positive energy, a place where our young artists can display their talents and express themselves through their art. I’ve been collecting art for twenty years now, and it’s part of my passion. I wanted to bring it to a neighborhood that’s usually talked about in negative ways about the violence that goes on. I hope that I’m a catalyst of that new beginning of what’s really going on in East Garfield Park and all the positives…the people and history behind the neighborhood make it great. There are a lot of talented people and a lot of talented artists in our neighborhood that get overlooked because there’s no place where they can display their art, visit art shows, and look at other artists work in their neighborhood. The community loves it. They’ve been very accepting of what we’re doing here. We have a lot of collaboration with Breakthrough and all the neighborhood schools with art shows and workshops.

Eric Estrada
Operations Coordinator, Breakthrough

“Everything we do comes from a family orientation. A lot of employees are residents of the community, [and the same for me] being part of the community for little over a year and half now and living in the same community, knowing that all my efforts are alongside my neighbors. Breakthrough is here to try to bridge those gaps, even for those from different demographics that are moving in now. There’s a community that’s already existing in this neighborhood, and we should come up alongside of it. I grew up in Humboldt Park five minutes from here, but it’s the same in every community - you get people who just want to see it flourish. Breakthrough is here to be a resource for anyone we can help."

Demario Phipps-Smith
Communications Coordinator, Breakthrough

“Breakthrough as an organization partners with people who are affected by poverty in East Garfield Park. We focus on a 40 block radius to hyper-localize our services, so the impact is greater. We do that through a number of programs and services. We have men and women’s shelter, we have the FamilyPlex, and we have the Fresh Food Pantry. With all of these we have numerous programs and services with the hope that we can partner with our neighborhs and the residents of East Garfield Park to help revitalize and strengthen the community… I think the best thing about East Garfield Park is it’s like any other community in Chicago. They’re all great and what makes them great is the people. What makes East Garfield Park unique is the number of challenges and obstacles to overcome for each resident, but it’s like any other place. There’s families here that want their children to grow up and do great things. There’s kids here with so much untapped potential, and I think we see it every day, just being inspired by kids that have so much uniqueness, so much potential, so much talent. Also, just seeing dedicated people who love their community, who want to get back to a time where everyone knows each other on the blocks. Where the older people on the block look out for the younger people and vice versa. That’s the community I work in in East Garfield Park, and I love being a part of that. I think that’s what most people who work at Breakthrough and particularly at the FamilyPlex because they get to see members of the community daily. I think that’s what really resonates with the staff here is that we’re building community with the community."

Evan Cauble-Johnson
Chief Development Officer, Inspiration Corporation

“Inspiration Corporation started in 1989. Our founder was a Chicago police officer, Lisa Nigro. In her work as a police officer, she began feeling like she was contributing to these cyclical issues of poverty, recidivism, homelessness, and addiction. She felt like in her work she wasn’t helping people create really lasting change and helping them exit the situations they were caught in. She also was affected by feeling there was a whole separate city within the city of Chicago of people who many people didn’t acknowledge. So she quit her job, borrowed her nephew’s Radio Flyer wagon, filled it up with food and coffee. She started walking around the streets of Chicago and talking to people who before when she was a police officer, she might have shaken down on her beat, and tried to get a better understanding of what was going on in their lives that had led them into this situation. She was trying to figure out a way to provide some sort of service to help them make some sort of positive change. When she was a police officer, East Garfield Park was actually her beat, but when she originally started doing the non-profit social service work, she went to Uptown, which at the time was the focal point for homelessness in the city...The thing that the Inspiration Corporation has become most identified with is the space in East Garfield Park, Inspiration Kitchens. This space came from an idea from an early board member while volunteering at Inspiration Café (in Uptown), where we have this group of people who are consistently coming in to eat breakfast or dinner at the café, and they’re struggling to provide safe housing for themselves and struggling to provide their basic needs. And the real root of that is employment related. They are not consistently earning income. Most of these people do work, but they tend to work under the table jobs, short-term jobs, bouncing from thing to thing, and they don’t tend to accumulate a specific skill or work trajectory. This early board member thought we’re not using this commercial kitchen space that aids Inspiration Café between the times that we’re serving meals, and all these folks that are coming in are in desperate need of a skill and employment. So why don’t we offer them the opportunity to come into the kitchen and start learning from some of the paid staff who are cooks to learn the basics of the trade to try and get some people into entry level food service jobs. Our first official class was in early 2000, and we estimate we put about 650 people in jobs over that time. About five years into doing the training program, we opened our first Inspiration Kitchens, which was in the North Side of the city, and in 2011 we moved all our operations to East Garfield Park. The program works with a little over 100 people every year. We train folks for entry-level jobs in the food service industry, so usually their first job would be a line cook or prep cook after they graduate. The program is about three months in length, and they get to work here at Inspiration Kitchens in a working restaurant. We also run a small catering business out of this location, so they get to experience different sides of the food service industry. They learn everything from working in a commercial kitchen to how to prepare for an interview. We have people who work at Eataly, Beatrix, Urban Belly - a lot of the fancier West Loop restaurants. It provides people within the community of people we’re serving access into that world.”


Bernard Loyd
Founder and President, Boxville (Urban Juncture)

“Boxville is a community marketplace. It is a place where folks who have a fledgling enterprise or for some people who have been in business for some time and now need a space where they can develop their patron base and brand at a very modest cost. And for people to work together to create a vibe that moves business and turns the neighborhood around. It’s the first shipping container mall in Chicago. We’re trying to utilize this structure that is very adaptable in commerce…Bronzeville is a unique place because it’s a place where blacks, where we came in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. We could live nowhere else. We could shop nowhere else, so we made Bronzeville our home and created a metropolis. ‘The Black Metropolis’ was the term that was used because we didn’t need to leave our neighborhood to get whatever we wanted. We could get jobs in our neighborhood. We had social events in our neighborhood. And we created wonderful art, literature, and music around the metropolis. Bronzeville carries all that history, and it also carries the promise of recreating that in this new generation. Bronzeville is also the physical structures – the great greystones up and down the boulevards, the wide boulevards, the access to the lake, the fact that on my bike I can be downtown in 20 minutes, downtown on train in 20 minutes, to Midway in 25 minutes.”

Maséqua Myers
Executive Director, South Side Community Art Center

““We are the oldest African-American art collective institution in the country. We are a part of the Workers Progress Administration initiative, so in 1940 we became one of the 110 art centers that was assisted in founding and opening. We are the only ones that are still standing in the same location, with the same mission after 76 years. We never closed our doors. We continuously bring art experiences to this community, to the nation, and we actually have international reference and acknowledgment as well. We are carrying on the legacy of using our art to educate and to bring people together and also use it as an affirmation of the African-American artist in particular. One of the reasons why the South Side Community Art Center exists is because of racism. It’s because of in 1940, there were no galleries that would hang African-American art. There was one guy named Peter Pollack who had a gallery downtown that hung art for arts sake in term of its beauty and prominence. With him involved in the South Side Community Arts Center, we were able to negotiate and be a part of the Workers Progress Administration… We’re more than just an art gallery. We’re a multidisciplinary school. Not only do you come to see exhibitions of art, you get chances to take classes in writing, acting, and poetry. We also have programs in the evening where we have open mic and spoken word events. We’re also a community center. We’re here for the community, which means we support whatever the community wants to speak on. We’re right there for social injustice situations, and I think that is what has kept us alive because we’ve kept the pulse of the community at heart. So whenever there’s something to talk through, any kind of plans of action for the better, it happens through here. We’ve gone to the jails, we’ve gone to the schools to bring art. We know that art can change a person’s life for the better, and it can also bring people’s understanding of each other…I think people should come to Bronzeville because of the vibrancy of art that is here and has always been here. We now have 6-7 beautiful art galleries in the Bronzeville area. People need to come to see that. We have a renewing of the bustling of businesses here. And just like different communities all over the city, Bronzeville is changing. But even if it changes, it will always be known for its African-American arts and cultural significance. You’ll always be able to find that kind of history and truth here. It’s extremely exciting because a lot of communities don’t have that long, great history. We have that.”

Michelle Merritt
Owner, Aplomb

“We are a vintage lifestyle boutique. Our container contains everything vintage. For me it’s about getting people to incorporate vintage into a modern lifestyle. We have clothing for men and women, home décor, barware, and anything you can think of that’s vintage from the 40s up until the 90s, which is very scary to think of 90s as vintage, but it is…For me I love Bronzeville because of the history. It was one of the first stops that blacks made during the Great Migration. I feel that the soul of that history is still here. I’m looking forward to what the next generation is going to tap into and to continue bringing great things to the community.”

Andre Guichard 
Co-owner, Gallery Guichard

“We’re very happy to be able to celebrate our history and culture here. For Francis and I, it is pretty much taking on the responsibility of being an activist in your neighborhood and being passed the baton of rich history and culture from all of the great art history in this neighborhood going back to the 30s and the Works Progress Administration. The space for the gallery was once the Ben Franklin Store, which was the first African-American owned department store. It was owned by the Jones Brothers, who also created ‘policy’, which would be the black lottery. Gallery Guichard’s Great Migration Sculpture Garden is also the site of the old Palm Tavern, which was also a very historic landmark with the likes of Louis Armstrong who used to come to relax and be in the same space as others. So we do take a lot of pride and deference in that this is sacred ground. We feel it’s our responsibility to continue to connect people with our culture, which is very rich.”

Frances Guichard 
Co-owner, Gallery Guichard

“We’ve been in business since 2005. Originally, we were located at 35th and King Dr. We moved here in 2014 to the Bronzeville Artist Lofts. Gallery Guichard is one of the commercial spaces in the bottom level. There are two floors above us that are artist live/work spaces. Our mission is to expose artists to collectors – artists from all over the world - artists of all nationalities, but we specialize in the art of the African Diaspora. It gives artists an opportunity to be creative and imaginative in bringing their works out and us to be able to help them reach an audience that they would not ordinarily reach. We’re doing great things in the community, and we’re very proud to be here…Because our ancestors came from the South fleeing Jim Crow and other atrocities, they came here for a better way of life, they were able to turn lemons into lemonade. You had a myriad of people who came and really made a better life for themselves. You had your upper, middle, and lower income all living and working together, supporting each other because they couldn’t go anywhere else. Because of redlining. African-Americans made this a place where the dollar changed hands on a regular basis and kept the money within the community.”


Lenore Lindsey
Owner, Give Me Some Sugah

“The business has been active for 9 years now. I was an accountant before. That was my profession, and I just wanted to have a business in my neighborhood that kind of reflected what I remembered about my neighborhood. So that’s how it started. It’s just kind of a nice old-fashioned place. Nothing fancy, just cakes, cookies, and pies made from scratch the way I remember them when I was growing up. I just wanted it to be homey and friendly – a place in the neighborhood where everyone knows your name…I remember South Shore when I was coming up, it was very active, a lot of businesses on the strip. It’s been kind of run down over the years, but now, I just see hope. There’s a lot of activists doing a lot of things and trying to bring it back. We have the library coming and Tiger Woods is working on the golf course. South Shore is a beautiful area. We have the lakefront, we have a golf course, you can get downtown in 20 minutes four different ways, the old homes, and the people are just special – all of them are special. After working downtown for 30 years and then coming back to my neighborhood and meeting the people who live here, I’m just thrilled. There’s so much going on you didn’t know about.”

Jerald Gary
Owner, Avalon Regal Theater

“The Avalon Regal Theater is part of a much larger development that we’re hoping by the time we’re done will resemble Beale Street and L.A. Live. We’re really looking to bring the performing arts in as something that can inspire the community as well as create economic development opportunities through all the ancillary businesses that would develop around the building as a result of it being reactivated. We’re hopeful we can get the property into the national consciousness because this is the largest entertainment venue focused on African-American performing arts in the country. It’s larger than the Apollo Theater with all its seats that we have. It also predates the Apollo by a couple of years, so we’re really excited about bringing the building back into the community and really letting the whole nation know that this thing has existed in the community for so long. People just drive past it - most folks have no idea how beautiful it is on the inside, so we’re looking to make it available to everyone again. The first phase is to reopen the building, and we’re looking to do that later this year. A lot of the work is already done. Most of what we have to focus on now is the mechanicals behind the walls, so we’re hopeful we can start to mitigate some of those issues, which will allow for a late fall opening and maybe doing a grand opening in the Spring next year. We’re in a pretty good position financially because the building itself doesn’t require a whole lot of investment, to the fact that there was over $20 million put into this property. It’s in great shape. The aesthetics have been preserved pretty well…South Shore is a great neighborhood because it’s right by the lake, and there’s great people here. It’s a great middle-class community. I grew up here, I know the folks that live in the neighborhood, and I know how important that this venue has been, not just to the community, but to the city as a huge economic engine. It’s frankly a cheaper ticket price than having to go downtown and having to pay for parking and marked up concessions. Most of the folks that are going to urban shows in the Midwest are going to venues that are outside of the communities they reside in, which is where we are right now. The venue is important, not just from an economic perspective, but from a discretionary income perspective. You want to be able to see a show where you live. On the North Side, there are who knows how many theaters up there. People have so many options, but this is one of the only, certainly the largest theater venue south of downtown that can offer the type of entertainment that people are seeking outside of the neighborhood.”

LaVonte Stewart
Executive Director, Lost Boyz Inc.

“We started LostBoyz in 2008, officially in 2009 when we became a non-for-profit 501c3. As an organization we started in response to the spike in violence that we saw in the community among youth. I had already been coaching Little League for the local league that had been defunct for about two and a half decades. It was the one that my peers and I grew up in in this community. So when it folded I was really disappointed and I was stuck with this group of about 15 boys, [ages] 11 to 12. [While] I was telling them that things were coming to an end, and I was going to help them transition into another league, to one of our league mates in the district like Jackie Robinson West or South Side, we experienced what I considered to be a traumatic incident. It was middle of the day in the summertime on a weekday. While I was talking to them, we see two guys pursuing another guy across the field and they have guns. I’m kind of old school, and I hit the dirt. The kids are kind of laughing, talking, taking bets on if they were going to get the guy. At that moment it really hit me like a ton of bricks how desensitized to the violence the kids had become. There was just this mixture of emotions for me. As an adult who was working with them, there was a protective factor and this ‘Oh my God. Maybe this is more than I can deal with’. As a person growing up in the community and having lived that life, there was also a sense of guilt that I had overall contributed to this transformation of our subculture. So I wanted to contribute to changing that narrative or that paradigm of what was happening. So from there, I was thinking about it, and that’s where the name came from. We had lost these kids. Where are all the adults? The people standing in the gap for the kids? We’re lost spiritually, mentally, emotionally. It was less of an indictment on the kids and more of an indictment on the adults in the community. So that’s how it came about. We’ve been going pretty strong since then. We started with 15 boys. We’re now up to a total of roughly 130 kids. Of that 130, about 14 of them are teenagers who have been in the program since they were younger and are now too old to play. We created a second program for them which is a continuation of service called Successful Youth Leaders, where they act as youth workers. The rest of the kids are playing baseball or softball. This is our fourth year incorporating fast-pitch softball for the girls. We saw these same negative behavior patterns with girls that often revolved around violence and interpersonal conflict and in some cases it was worse than with the boys. It was an easy decision to bring the girls in…South Shore itself is an absolutely beautiful and wonderful neighborhood. It has a very rich history. We have so many jewels and assets in this community. It’s a transportation hub. It’s a really wonderful mix of wealth that’s in this community. It’s what makes it so interesting. You could be on one block , and it’s a moderate block, and you could go over two blocks, and you’ll run into baby mansions, and then you’ll go over two more blocks and it’s dirt poor. It’s a really interesting mix of income levels. We have really notable people who come from this community. It’s very resource rich in one aspect. It’s a community that’s now trying to rebound thanks to people like Yvette Moyo (publisher of South Shore Current Magazine) and posthumous Henry English, founder and leader of the Black United Fund, and Victoria Brady (founder of Ray of Hope Center for the Arts) who do wonderful things for the community and are trying to resurrect it.”


Ashley James
Manager, Greenline Coffee

“When I first started, I was just a regular barista behind the counter. Two years ago it changed over and I became the manger. We just wanted something positive in the neighborhood so that we could attract not only locals but other people could come in, get great customer service, and a good cup of coffee. They could come in and sit for a while, get some Wi-Fi, do homework, be somewhere where you can bring your family. It’s a nice place in the community where it’s a balance of everything…what makes Woodlawn great – I guess I can speak from experience since I live across the street - I believe there’s a community feel that you get in how everyone kind of knows everybody. You might not know them by name, but you know them by face. You could be walking down the street and people will be like, ‘How are you doing? How are your kids doing?’ People are really concerned about you. I love the fact that everybody cares about everybody in the community, and it’s not always like what it seems like in the news if you live here and experience it. I love the community feel - that everybody basically looks out for everybody. It’s like a family.”

Jake Sapstein
Co-owner, Robust Coffee Lounge

“Robust Coffee Lounge was started between my husband and I seven years ago. It was at the time the financial markets were crashing, and both of us knew we were going to be out of work. It was an idea that we had that we thought would be something we’d do in our retirement, but it was the only thing we could see to do at that moment, so we decided to go for it. What brought us into the neighborhood was a couple of different factors. One is that the building that we’re in, I was working on with a developer at the time, so I knew the building. As far as considering the neighborhood, my grandparents ran a chain of pharmacies on the South Side for 50 years, so I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood. I used to work at 83rd and Cottage Grove at a pharmacy that was there. That was kind of like my summer job. So, at the time we looked around, and it was pretty obvious that there was a lack of food, lack of drink, so it came down to what would be the best food based business to go into. Coffee is something that everybody can kind of partake in whether they were part of the neighborhood, part of the university - whether they were a young student or a grad student, a kid or retired adult, if they have money or are living on a fixed income. Coffee is $1.50 – you can come, sit, soak up the atmosphere, catch up with friends, get work done, and so that was what we thought would be the best route to take in the neighborhood…There is a great amount of potential in this neighborhood. If you’re in any other neighborhood, you may see dilapidated buildings. You may see open storefronts. You drive even through Lincoln Park, you find on a street like Armitage or Halsted where there used to be thriving businesses, open stores or for rent signs. Here we kind of had that at one point. There were riots and fires in the neighborhood, and it kind of cleared out quite a bit of the infrastructure. So, now people are coming in and actually able to start from the ground up, and I think that’s got a lot of people excited.” 

Damian X. Lee
Program Manager, Blackstone Bicycle Works, Experimental Station

“Blackstone Bikes, with the combination of Experimental Station, has been here to serve the community, which is Woodlawn, Kenwood, Hyde Park, and Englewood. The bike shop component of Experimental Station came about because of a lack of bike shops in the greater South Side area. Basically, the programs we created within the bike shop relate to sustainability, nutrition, academics, learning about working in different environments and customer service skills. We also have racing teams, a girls’ bike club, and a youth leadership council that meets with a larger group once a year. It’s all of these different components that makes up Blackstone Bicycle Works.”

Kelly Fitzpatrick
Market Manager, 61st Street Farmer's Market, Experimental Station

“The 61st Street Farmers Market started in 2008, so we’re moving into our 10th outdoor season this year. It was a reaction to a need in the neighborhood. Woodlawn was a food desert with really limited access to fresh food. With Experimental Station, which is the umbrella organization – all the programming that’s part of it happened pretty organically. The farmer’s market was an extensive of a buying club that had existed. Through the years it’s been focusing on food access and on health initiatives. Food education is also a huge part of our mission. We always have a market tasting or a chef demo. We work with SouthSide Diabetes, who are here at every single market – they give a tour of the market and provide incentives for customers to learn more about what is diabetic friendly at the market and available. Experimental Station also has a program called LINK Up Illinois, which is a double incentive program for Snap Benefits throughout the state. It started at this farmer’s market - also in 2008, and since then it has grown. We facilitate that program across the state at a bunch of farmer’s markets. LINK customers can come and spend as much as they want, but we’ll double their money up to $25. We also have what’s called a ‘market school’ during the outdoor months, where we have an organization or individual come in for 3 hours each market day and share some kind of activity that is educational and interactive and relates to food in some capacity – doing everything we can to create more conversation about local food and why it’s important. I think that’s what is really unique about this market – it walks the talk. We really committed to our mission and continue to do so. I also work with kids from the elementary school next door. We have a food house that’s a couple blocks away where I grow a bunch of things that are used entirely for food education with those elementary kids and residents of the surrounding community – those are the folks that get that food. And then that leads into the farmer’s market, so there is a really wonderful circular thing that we’re working on here. There’s also so many of our vendors that have been with us from the beginning and their customers, so there’s a sense of community here that I think is really unique to this market. It’s not just something that happens at farmer’s markets. It’s something that has been very consciously cultivated.”


Aaron Mitchell
Owner, The Outta Space

“The Outta Space started as a concept of a collaborative effort of doing pop-up shows, which was film, art, music, and sometimes elements of other performance. That collaborative multi-disciplinary concept is a major part of our vision. The main part of what we do here is it’s a collaborative space. Mondays through Wednesdays we have classes and workshops set up, Thursdays through Saturday we have live entertainment. It’s kind of a strange setup in a way because it’s not traditional. I’m also going to open on Tuesday nights, and we’re going to have workshops and talks for an hour and then have a creative open gym after that. We have a Wednesday night improv class that’s been solid, and we have drop-in improve on Monday nights. We’ve also had some variety shows where we hit all those elements. Our art shows, we always incorporate multiple genres and disciplines. And we do a lot of live music. The music is eclectic, but it’s curated and highly supported. We’re pulling in music from the local community and the region. We just like to take pride that it’s going to be quality. Our vision is what seems to make everything happen. The vision is really to support or inspire collaboration, which in turn, turns into exhibition, performance, or whatever it turns out to be. There’s been a lot of cross-pollinating, energy, and excitement from these nights where you can see it actually working. The people you meet, the people meeting each other, getting inspired by each other and wanting to work together, even outside of here, that’s awesome.  That’s what you hope for.” 

Christine Tully Aranza
Co-owner, Autre Monde

“This was a vacant building. My husband had a little curiosity store next door, so we bought this in 2010. It was basically an old cleaning place. Berwyn has and has had a really good development program, so we were able to access some help and some financing in building this whole place out and building a commercial kitchen. The area really needed a restaurant. There’s great music venues here, but that was really the impetus. I think we’re kind of the first in the near West burbs’ to say ‘Hey, people are moving out here from our generation with their kids, and we don’t necessarily just want steak and Caesar salad. We want some other options.’ So that was the impetus for John, myself, and our two partners, Beth and Dan, who are culinary partners. They do all the chef stuff. We all go back to Spiaggia days together. They actually moved to Berwyn too once the restaurant started. The restaurant is Mediterranean influenced, so a lot of Italian and French background for Beth, and they lived in Spain as well. We try to stay as close and authentic to all those countries: Spain, Italy, Greece, France, a little bit of North African influence, a lot of wood grilled seafood and handmade pastas and flatbreads. It’s been really well-received. We had people say ‘You’re crazy to do that’ where it is and all of that, but it’s really been embraced.  When we opened, we’ve always had craft spirits and John spent a long time cultivating an old world wine list. He’s really gotten known for Croatian wines, Jura, and all these really cool emerging places. We really try to just give people, like the name of the restaurant, ‘another world’. We try to give them that sense of something different in Berwyn.” 

Jerry Hernandez
Owner, Lavergne's Tavern

“We opened up in June. The whole reason [for opening] is we come from a restaurant background. I bought a house in Oak Park, and I grew up here in Berwyn. My mom still lives here. We were just driving around and saw this space. There’s no lack of taverns and bars in Berwyn, but there’s a lack of places that have a kitchen because it’s kind of a newer thought out here, at least out here in Berwyn. In the city, you’re expected to have good food as well as being a neighborhood place. We’re just bringing good food to the neighborhood, bringing quality craft beer, and some well-thought out cocktails…Growing up it’s always been very blue-collar. It still is blue-collar, but there are some changes going on. The city is doing a lot of work to bring in people from the city, young professionals. The Metra is right here, location wise, you’re 10 minutes from the Loop. A lot of people don’t realize that. For us, for business, we’re just happy to be here and be one of the first of its kind. Not to take anything away from anyone else. The neighborhood has been very receptive to our product. There’s a lot of people that live here, transplants from the city, who are like ‘Wow, we’ve been waiting for this. This is what we’re used to. We’re happy having something closer.’”

Giuseppe Quercia
Owner, Freddy's Pizza

“I started working here [the original location] in 1968. I came from Italy. I was 13 years old. I started cleaning, washing floors, pots and pans. From there, I graduated to make pizzas and make Italian ice. After I finished my senior year of high school, the place was up for sale, and I purchased it. That was the establishment here where we are now. And that was it. I made a lot of changes.  We added on a deli, Italian lunch meat, Italian products. Before it was just a lot of things to survive – it was a 2-3 person operation. Now we have about 10 or 11 people working for us. This all started in 1973. I went back for my first trip back to Italy in 1978-1979, and I brought a lot of ideas that I see there like the trattoria style and the gelato. When we started, it was a little rocky road because people were not aware, but now gelato is very popular. I met my wife here too. We both took an adventure and got married in 1983. From that point on, we build on, build on, and build on and became a place to stop. Last week, there were some customers who stopped in who wanted to see me and talk to me, and I realized they were the 4th generation [of the family] I am taking care of. Next March, it’s going to be 50 years I’ve been doing this. Some of these kids are coming here, well I call them kids, but their grandparents used to bring them here. Now they’re bringing their kids, and some of their kids are getting married. For a little small place, you see very few places like this. New York you see a lot of them. But here, it seems like in Chicago everything is commercialized. Everything has to be big. These ma’s and pa’s are dying out. There’s a love and a lot of dedication into this business. It’s rewarding too at the end of the week. We were able to show people beyond meatballs, pasta, and spaghetti, there’s more other Italian foods. It’s a beautiful atmosphere when you come and see all these people that you know – such a great feeling. I have a great group working for me. They’ve been here for years. I have people here from 30 years, 20 years, 10 years, so we’re very fortunate and happy. Our customers when they walk in, they always feel at home, but also with the workers I believe you always have to give them what’s fair, and you have to give them a lot of respect. You can’t build something on your own…Cicero, after Naples, Italy, has always been my place to live. Cicero has given me a lot. A lot of people tell me ‘What are you still doing here? You could be so many places’. But Cicero is my kind of town.”

John Aranza
Co-owner, Autre Monde

“Berwyn feels very much like a city neighborhood. It doesn’t feel like a Western suburb. You have a lot of blue-collar presence here, a lot of city transplants, and the housing stock is amazing. A lot of that was the attraction for us. I think it’s been a hidden gem for a long time. You have a lot of old-timers where the families are moving, and you have a lot of people that are recognizing these old values that are moving here. We have friends who have moved here because we moved here. We have two regulars who were visiting someone who were friends of ours. They came in and because of their first visit to our restaurant, they decided Berwyn was a place for them to move to. There’s also a lot of history for a suburb. I didn’t realize until we moved here that down by the Depot District, one of the original investors in that area was Marshall Field. I’m originally from Bridgeport - to me it has a lot of that city feel.”

Derrick Mancini
Owner, Manager & Distiller, Quincy Street Distillery

“Quincy Street Distillery was started about 5 years ago. Riverside is a very small, but old community. It’s got a lot of historical significance. It was started in 1869 when they had Frederick Law Olmsted design and build the first planned commercial community in the United States. The way it grew up afterwards, it preserved its central infrastructure, so even today it’s the original layout with the curvy streets, and it’s still gas lit and has a full range of eclectic architecture. We’re 20 year residents of the village. About 5 years before we opened, we were looking into opening a winery in Southwest Michigan, and then realized it was a more viable business if we added a distillery. We spent a couple of years trying to start that distillery in Michigan without success.  While that was happening, Illinois liberalized their craft distiller’s permit. This building had been renovated and a friend of mine while I was across the street at the Riverside Arts Center said to me, ‘Why don’t you consider opening up the distillery here in town?’, which we hadn’t really thought about because like many Western suburb communities it had at one time been dry and doesn’t generally promote a lot of bars. So we didn’t think it was going to happen. We called up the village, and they said ‘Anything we can do to make this happen.’ It was just the right timing, and I think it helped that I was a long-term resident of the village. We switched the business model to be about historicity, to take advantage of the fact that we’re in a historical village and wanted the branding to be associated with historical places and events. And we wanted the methodology we used for producing the spirits and the style of the spirits that we make to often have a historical basis. We’re very small, but we wanted to have both the production capability here for handmade artisan spirits, and we wanted to have a sort of speakeasy style neighborhood bar where people could try the spirits and purchase them. And people really enjoy the tours. We pride ourselves on giving very elaborate tours based on the amount of information. Essentially the tours are a little mini-course in how you make whiskey by hand the way they did in the early 19th century.”


Hansa Chhabria
Chef/Owner, Uru Swati

“We opened about 9 years ago.  I would say people should come here because it’s like homemade food, not like a restaurant. It covers more than a region.  It’s mainly street food of India - South Indian food, North Indian food…It’s a great neighborhood because for people from back home, they feel at home, and for people who are not from back home, they can feel a little India over here.  When I migrated to this country in 83’, I would make sure I would come once a week with my kids just to feel not that homesick.  I think it does that to everyone else too.”  

Elio Erraez
Co-owner, Sabor a Cafe

“We’ve been here 17 years at this location.  Basically, we try to work with the community because this restaurant is not just for Colombians, but it’s multicultural. My wife is the chef, and we have traditional recipes from generations in the family. We’ve been hosting live music for more than 10 years, working with local bands and international musicians as well. People sometimes don’t realize who’s playing in the back.  Believe me, they are amazing musicians. They are monsters of music from Cuba, Brazil…people don’t realize because they are not well known in this country – but they are in their countries. That’s my commitment to introduce them through this place. We’ve been doing not just music but workshops for the neighborhood.  We have art expositions and book readings.  This is a restaurant and cultural center.” 

Bobby Patel
Manager, Patel Brothers Grocery

“This grocery store started in 1974.  This is a large Indian and Pakistani community here. Patel Brothers has been here a long time, and we are selling good quality groceries. That’s why everyone likes the Patel Brothers.  People come from out of state, Indiana, Iowa, small suburbs…This area is a big market of Indians, Pakistanis, Iraqis…lots of mixing here in the community. We never have any problems.”  

Pete Valavanis
Owner, Cary's Lounge

“It’s been in my family since 1972.  My mother and father opened it then.  I guess I’ve been doing this my whole life. My father passed away in 1989, and my mother and I were wondering if we should keep the bar or not, and I said, “What else are we going to do?  Let’s keep going.”  And I’m still here.  It’s had several facelifts and incarnations, but it’s still the same joint. I like the people here, and I like what I do.  It’s a very friendly, casual place. I never saw a reason why a little neighborhood bar can’t have good quality drinks, so that’s what we try to do.  Running a bar all those years back then, I didn’t know anything about beer or whiskey or anything like that because you didn’t have to.  Now, it’s all about knowing your product, what you’re selling, and it’s great actually. It’s kind of breathed new life into the industry…I generally appreciate people – that’s my favorite part of doing this. People ask me what you’re doing on Devon Avenue - it’s not really a nightlife district.  But, first of all, we were here a long time ago.  It was quite different then.  There were actually a bunch of bars on Devon back then. And second, this is home for me. I know my neighbors and the other business owners around here, and they know me.  It’s really comfortable.  And the street is busy.  There’s quite a few restaurants open late night.  There’s people out here all hours of the night. It’s a nice thing to see.  I get along with all my neighborhoods.  They’ve been great.  Some of the owners or workers will send people over here because they know it’s a nice place.”  

Ajibola Johnson (with wife and co-owner Funmi Johnson)
Co-owner, Simi's Restaurant

“We opened up in February (2016), and it’s actually named after our daughter Simisola.  Simisola in Yoruba means ‘rest in wealth’, so we’re currently looking for money (laughs).  The main reason [we opened] it was tough to find Nigerian restaurants in the city that you could feel comfortable bringing your non-Nigerian coworkers or friends to. As far as are customer base, it’s probably about 60% percent Nigerians, 40% non-Nigerians.  We’re looking for more of a 50/50 split, but it’s been great. We have organic walk-ins, but we also have a lot of catering.  I’d say about 40% of our revenue comes from catering to Nigerian churches, parties, ceremonies, things of that nature…We love Rogers Park because you have a pretty decent African population around here.  And we have multiple demographics in West Rogers Park.  The folks that live here are willing to try new things, so that helps a lot.”

Lakshmi Menon
Board Member, Indo-American Heritage Museum

“What we do is share the heritage of the Indian-American community with a view to having other people who are not of the same ethnicity know about us, our customs, how we adapt to issues in the United States, and discover common ground in the process with Americans of all ethnicities.  And also, we celebrate our heritage and work with community members and their subsequent generations to instill a sense of pride in who they are and understand their culture in an environment that may not always encourage that.  We usually do this through a lot of programs and use the Devon Avenue marketplace as what we call ‘a living museum’.  Because for people who are not of our community, as people shop, that shows how they live. So through the merchandise that’s available in the stores, they get a window into the life of the people of the community.  For the young generation belonging to the community, we have a lot of interaction with the senior people who are the keepers of the traditions.  There is an oral history project that’s ongoing.  They are many ways in which we share experiences across generations, across ethnic origins, in a way to overcome things that might divide people. We have a sacred sites tour, which tells people about the diversity of religions within the community by visiting various places of worship.  We have a ‘Taste of India, which is a way to explore the diverse cuisine of India with a specially curated meal representing dishes from all across India, rather than the standard food that you come across in a typical Indian restaurant. To non-Indians our message has always been stressing the diversity of the Indian community.  Our longest running and most popular program is called ‘Ethnic Dialogue’.  There we have immigrant volunteers who come and tell about their lives and answer questions. Our next big thing is a celebration of the Indian-American presence in the United States.  The Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit called ‘Beyond Bollywood’ will be coming.  The Indo-American Heritage Museum and the Field Museum are partnering to bring it here to Chicago in July 2017.  We are busy organizing a way to augment the national story with Chicago’s Indian-American story.  We are working very hard on pulling in all aspects of the community’s history together to make this a really stupendous exhibit.”   

Huma Mahtani
Co-owner, Reshams

“We’ve been in business almost 30 years.  We have hand-crafted goods from Indian, mostly handirafts, pillows, wall hangings, and tapestries, yoga related and meditation related, holistic healing kind of things…I grew up here.  I love it.  I was 12 years old when I came to America.  I grew up on Devon Avenue actually.  You have all different nationalities - that’s the best thing about it.  It’s a fun neighborhood to be in.  Everyone gets along.  We love each other.”  

Alex Manujevich
Owner, Argo Georgian Bakery

“We opened in 1996. We have a traditional Georgian oven, and we bake traditional Georgian bread and different pies here. Dumplings and everything, we make it here…When we opened, it was mostly a Russian neighborhood.  That’s changed, but we’re still alive. Everybody comes in - I don’t prefer any nationalities. Everybody likes it. People come from all over because people find us online. They come from all the states around and all the states in America. When they get a chance to visit to Chicago, they stop in.”    


Karen Canales
Environmental Justice Education Coordinator, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO)

“We were founded in 1994 by a group of parents from Gary Elementary, and they got together because they were redoing the roof, and they didn’t want the children to breathe the asphalt they were using.  After that, they took on more environmental justice work in the neighborhood.  Some of the biggest accomplishments that took 15 years was closing down the coal power plant here that we had in the neighborhood and the one in Pilsen, bringing in a brand new park to the east side of the neighborhood that didn’t have a park before, and bringing in a CTA bus line. All of those things were things that we very much needed in the neighborhood.  Folks have a lot of asthma here, so we needed to shut down the coal power plant.  There was only one park space on the west side of the neighborhood, so we needed another one on the east side, and we needed more public transportation.  We only had one bus that ran east and west on 26th St., but for folks that lived on the south side of the neighborhood, we didn’t really have any other mode of transportation for them…LVEJO has been doing toxic tours for years now in an effort to spread awareness of what we have in the neighborhood, but to also hopefully get either donors or potential volunteers.  Our toxic tour right now encompasses the Semillas de Justicia Garden.  It’s a beautiful, brand new community garden.  This is our second season of harvesting there.  It’s also considered a brownfield site.  It’s a beautiful story itself.  We go on to our walkway project El Paseo that we’ve been working on for years.  I give the history and let folks envision what it would look like, and walk through it for part of the section.  We talk about 26th St. and gentrification as well because it’s been going on a lot in Pilsen.  I believe Little Village is really, really rooted.  We have a huge sense of community here, and gentrification is very likely to come here.  We want to start talking to folks about what that means, what it looks like, how can we prevent it.  And then we talk about the jail and criminalization, policing, what does safety look like, what does it mean to different people.  Some people are very much for more cops and some people aren’t.  We talk about our point of view on it, how we can do a little more community policing in a way.  We talk about the Collateral Channel. It has been one of our projects for awhile.  It’s a manmade piece of water.  It’s a toxic site as well, and it just smells really bad.  What we want to do is potentially cap it and make more green space.  It’s directly across the street from the brand new La Villita Park, so it would be awesome if we have a sort of extension of the park there.” 

J. Omar Magana
Executive Director and Founder, OPEN Center for the Arts

“For the community, I think it’s very beneficial as we are one of the only galleries in the community.  Basically, what we focus on is making sure that there are arts in the neighborhood - always exploring ways, always sharing what we know and working together to expand the creativity in the neighborhood.  We’re connected with several of the organizations around here.  We’re in a coalition called the Marshall Square Resource Network, made up of all the organizations from the neighborhood.  What they do is unite all the non-profit organizations from the neighborhood, so they can get together and everyone can share resources.  It becomes this powerful network.   So if you need some art, it’s over here.  If you need some medical stuff, legal stuff - whatever it is that you need, everyone does something different, which is pretty awesome.  And by doing that there is an awesome energy in the neighborhood.  To know that we’re part of that, it’s amazing…Right now we have a theater program that we manage, Teatro Americano, which was created by Latinos Progresando.  They explore ways to make plays related to current events and current situations in our neighborhood.  We also have some dance classes called ‘I’m a Dance’.  We are pretty much just trying to get a little bit of energy, a little bit of fun, and just loosen up a little bit and learn something different.  We have art classes that we do for free with the support of the Lincoln Park Zoo.  We’re exploring ways to explain the environment, the wildlife, and the ecosystem through art.  We also have a leadership program.  It’s called ‘Hola’.  What they do is try to explain to people the power within them and figuring out a way to encourage them…Ever since I was a child, this was the place we would always come to to get the things we need as Mexicans. It’s the second largest Mexican community in the United States.  It is amazing. To walk down 26th St. you see it’s all mom and pop shops.  Every time you go in, you’re going to connect with someone, and it’s going to feel like a small town.”

Roel Trevino
Owner, Jacaranda Bar

“I’m a second generation owner.  My father opened it up in 1965, so we’ve been here 51 years.  We were one of the first Mexican businesses on 26th St.  Back then it was mostly Polish and Bohemian people.  I’ve had it for the last 20 years.  It’s a neighborhood bar, and that’s just what it is – a dive bar…Little Village is just like being in Mexico.  When I go out of town, as soon as I come back, I can smell the tortillas, the carnitas…it’s just the whole atmosphere.  There’s people that have been living here that I know and don’t speak English.  They work, they live, and they shop here in the same neighborhood.  It’s special to me – most money stays here.”  

Paul Fitzgerald
General Manager, Working Bikes

“The purpose of the organization is to rescue underutilized or unused bicycles from the waist stream and redistribute them in both local and global communities as tools of empowerment.  As a lifelong Chicagoan and lifelong Southsider, I’ve found a bicycle to be an empowering way to travel.  As a young adult, I learned how to maintain it myself.  By being able to be active and an active part of the community that I was traveling through or going to or living in, I found bicycles to be a good fit for me personally…For people coming to Working Bikes, there’s three main ways that people interact with us: we have volunteers, we have donors, and we have customers or clients.  The donors give us all the old bikes or anything bicycling related they no longer want.  We collect between 8,000 and 10,000 bikes a year.  In 2015, we collected 9,100 bikes.  Of those, 6,000 were shipped to projects all around the world.  Our biggest partners the last two years are in El Salvador, Zambia, and Ghana.  This year we’re going to be donating more than 1,500 bikes locally.  Our clients for our Cycle of Power programs, our local donation program for adults, some of them are in transitional housing, some of them are currently living on the street but receiving services somewhere else, some of them are Medicaid recipients whose doctors say they need to be more active for their health, some of them are youth programs from Bikes N’ Roses in Albany Park to Blackstone Bicycle Works in Woodlawn, some of them are refugees – we work with a lot refugee resettlement groups, and also ex-offender reentry.  Our kids’ bikes donation program is called Cycle of Peace.  We gave away 500 bikes with locks and helmets through the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Hub.  That was in June.  We did another Cycle of Power/Cycle of Peace collaboration with St. Sabina in Auburn-Gresham over Labor Day Weekend…Our customers are who financially support our mission.  About 95% or our budget is made up of customer interaction.  We sell about 1,800 refurbished bikes a year right here at 24th and Western…The volunteers do a lot of the heavy lifting for both our international shipments and for our local donations.  Anybody can come in and volunteer.  On Thursday evenings, we have a volunteer session which is open for women and transgender people exclusively.  Sometimes the bike shop can be a little disempowering to somebody who has not been around, for whatever reason, tools or does not feel entitled to come in, so we make sure it’s a safe place for women and transgender place to develop these skills too.  Volunteers don’t need any prerequisites.  Most people come in here with no experience on bikes, and they hopefully leave with some.”

Laura Gutierrez Ramos
Manager, Nuevo León

“This restaurant was opened in 1977.  My father Emeterio Gutierrez, who is the owner, he immigrated when he was 12 years old to Chicago.  My grandfather worked in refineries.  There were four boys.  They did their schooling here not knowing a drop of English, and it was a different school system than it is now.  They went through a lot of hardships, but in the end everything paid out.  Grandmother used to work the soup kitchen at Old St. Pat’s school to pay for their education.  She got them to the Catholic grammar school and high school at Holy Name Cathedral.  She used to work the kitchen there too.  Grandma wanted to open up a restaurant.  They opened up the restaurant in Pilsen in 1962, which was a staple in Pilsen that burnt down.  They all started there with their parents, and my father decided to move in 1977 to this location here.  He opened it up with a lot of dreams in every way.  It’s pretty hard to do as a Mexican immigrant.  It was a very Bohemian/Czech neighborhood at the time here.  Little Village was nothing what it is now.  He’s been open ever since then.  He’s had his hardships, but he’s made it for 39 years so far.  Now this has been a staple in this community because Little Village has transformed into a Latino, Hispanic community.  Mexicans, Salvadorenos, it’s very diverse…Everything is made here fresh.  The food is made with a lot of TLC, a lot of grandma’s recipes…fresh homemade tomales, tortillas de harina, which are from the northern part of Mexico where my father is from.  We take a lot of time and inspiration in our food…We’re actually a pretty tight-knit community.  Little Village has a lot of ups and downs of course.  And I know the feedback from TV, the negligence on the gangbangers, the gangs, this and that, it’s not all about that.  There’s still a lot of heart in this community.  And at the end of the day we all come together.”   

Eve Rodriguez Montoya
VP of Brand Strategy, Dulcelandia
Creator,  Yogolandia Yogurt and Botana Bar

“Dulcelandia started in 1995 by my father, Eduardo Rodriguez.  Basically, he started importing candy and piñatas from Mexico, mainly Guadalajara, Michoacán…Mexico is known for their confectionary products, both candy and snacks. So when my dad started Dulcelandia, he wanted to bring that nostalgic feeling of going to Mexico, buying these products for our large immigrant community in Chicago who didn’t have the access to those products.  Right now we have about 600 different varieties of candy and piñatas.  I’m updating the store to incorporate some American candy as well just because growing up with two cultures in Chicago and knowing that as much as I love marzipan and the spicy, fruity candy with the [ta]marindo, like mango and sandia, I also really enjoy Hershey’s Kisses, and the Kit Kat Bar, and a Tootsie Roll…We also have a sugar skull piñata, which is new for us.  The Day of the Dead is becoming more and more popular each year and throughout the whole country.  So we started importing sugar skulls from Mexico, made in Mexico by hand, as well as Catrinas and Catrines, which are the skeletons that are dressed up in reference to Day of the Dead.  We decided that we are going to carry sugar skulls year round now.  We’ve had people travel from all over the Midwest to our store for the sugar skulls.”


Ayoka Mota Samuels
Director, Gary Comer Youth Center
“We are the largest building in Greater Grand Crossing, and we’re proud of helping make this place a destination.  What many people don’t know is we are a community center for all youth, not just students at Gary Comer Prep.  We have youth come in to participate from all over the city as long as they’re residents of Chicago…A lot of time people would drive through Grand Crossing to get from one place to the next, primarily driving through it to get to South Shore, Woodlawn.  Up until recently, a lot of people didn’t know where Greater Grand Crossing was, but it’s hard to get through the South Side without going through it.  It’s a great community because even though people didn’t know it by name there were all these points of interest.  In this neighborhood, there are a lot of really good people and families.  This really is a great community despite of all our challenges.”   

Photo by Jasmin Shah

Cherita Whitehead
Store Manager, Brown Sugar Bakery
“Brown Sugar Bakery is more than just a bakery.  We are part of the community of 75th, which has a bunch of talented entrepreneurs.  The cake pretty much sells itself.  We just have to be really good on our customer service…I live and work in this community.  It’s safe, and the people are cultured.  There’s a lot of art and music.  Our neighbor [owner of Looks & Styles] is a singer, rapper, and designer, just to give you a sense.  I love 75th Street.  I think we’re up and coming.  I’m hoping to see 75th Street look like Hyde Park sooner than later.”  

Lawrence Calvin D'Antignac (aka "Dan")
Owner, The Woodshop
“I’ve owned this business roughly 42 years.  Most of the art, I guess about 50/50 comes from the United States and Africa and the Caribbean.  [I got into this business because] I needed a job.  I’m a cabinet maker, a self-taught cabinet maker.  I opened this shop up to make furniture.  That’s the name of it, ‘The Woodshop’.  I had three boys that were in the Boy Scouts.  They had a project to do one time.  The Scoutorama was coming to Chicago, and the theme of it was ‘your hobbies’.  At that time, Hank Aaron was breathing down Babe Ruth’s back to break that record, and the boys were collecting sports’ pictures.  That was their hobby, and they wanted to display their sports’ pictures.  They didn’t know how they would display it.  They said they would thumbtack them to the wall. One of my sons said, ‘Why don’t we put them in frames?’  I said that was a good idea.  They had about 150 pictures of basketball, football, and baseball.  I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go to the store and get some frames.’ So I went to Walgreens to get 7 x 14 inch frames, and they was four dollars and something a piece.  So, 150 times four dollars and something a piece, I decided I wasn’t going to pay that kind of money on a one shot situation (laughs). My youngest son said, ‘We can make the frames.’ I said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ So, I went to see if I could get some stock to make the frames, and the only place I knew to go was a frame shop on the North Side.  I went to about two or three of them, and they wouldn’t sell me the stock.  They wanted me to buy the frames from them.  So, I went to one place and asked the guy, and he said, ‘No, we don’t sell the stock.’ There was a Black guy that worked there.  He came out the back door and said, ‘Hey, I know where you can get some stock.  You go over here on Halsted and something, something.’  I went over there and the man sold me everything I wanted.  And then he told me where to get the glass from…So I got the glass, and we came here, made all those frames, framed them up, and took them down to McCormick Place [for the Scoutorama]…The boys won first place.  After that, we took them down, and the boys said, ‘They kept asking us how much we spent on all those frames.’ So, I said, ‘Let me go see how much picture frames cost.’ I went to a couple of places, and I got an estimate of what it cost me.  Then it happened to me right there.  I said, ‘I’m going into the picture frame business.’  Taught myself how to do it.  Then I got into the art business, bumped into that another way.  That was it.  The rest is history.”

Arel Ben Israel
Owner, Original Soul Vegetarian
We’ve been here for 35 years now.  My dad opened this business because he realized that most of the illnesses that existed, whether its high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, stress, high cholesterol, the African-American community was attacked by them the highest.  Because he changed his eating habits fifty plus years ago, he realized that some things changed within his own body.  So, he came up with the concept of a vegetarian restaurant.  He went from eating a traditional American diet, which was everything, to saying, ‘Let me challenge myself to a new way of eating’…Since then, we’ve just been developing and expanding in the vegan food industry.  We’re the first vegan restaurant in the Midwest.  We took what most people liked in the American diet, whether it was hamburgers, gyros, BBQ, and we made it all vegan…On a local standpoint, we don’t have as many options as we should, to be extremely honest, in the Black community.  That’s why they came up with the whole idea of food deserts.  Because they took a snapshot of neighborhoods, and some neighborhoods was better supplied than others.  It just so happened that on the South Side of Chicago we was deprived from fresh food, fresh vegetables, decent places to eat, decent places to go, places you can actually trust the products or the services they bring to the neighborhood, so from that standpoint it’s breathtaking.  It’s like a glass of fresh water that you’re kind of nourishing the community and connecting with people that normally wouldn’t even hear about it.”

Tamarra Austin
5 Loaves Eatery
“We’re working on 13 years this year.  Connie and Robert Kincaid, the owners, they’ve been running this business for a long time.  What I can say, it brings a homely vibe to the area we live in.  It allows people to feel like their grandmother is in the kitchen cooking for them.  The outstanding support from the community is what has kept 5 Loaves what it is now…Being on the South Side and knowing there are select sit-in restaurants to go to, this definitely sets the tone for having somewhere nice to come.  We have a really diverse clientele and get all types of people who come in and enjoy our food.  I honestly feel like it creates a close-knit family vibe for everyone that still lives in the neighborhood.” 

Kemati Porter
Artistic Director/Producer, eta Creative Arts
“This is the 46th season that eta has been a member of this community.  The impetus and foundation for work that occurs here, I think, is what is most important for people to understand.  For people who have been in this community and understand the history of eta, and as they tell us coming through the doors, this is the institution that they rely on to present to them the stories that they feel reflect who they are – their culture, their history.  It all happens here, and that’s not by accident.  This institution was designed to do just that, to represent the people of the community in which it resides.  It’s part of the mission here.  The mission is to perpetuate those positive images, to preserve the images for our generations to come, so they will know exactly the history and the culture that they are seated in as young African-American students and members of this community. And we want them to learn about the contributions that have been made by people who came before them.  That’s extremely important.  It is the basis of all the training we do here.   So if you’re going to dance, you have to know Katherine Dunham.  If you’re going to be on stage, you need to know Paul Robeson, and music you need to know the gospel greats that came out of Chicago, the jazz greats that came out of Chicago, and those that exist now.  It’s about teaching life skills.  It’s art, yeah, but that art teaches a very fundamental life skill – ‘Who am I, where am I going, and how am I going to get there?’”


Lee Corrina Cano
Co-owner, The Coffee Studio
“We opened the Coffee Studio here in Andersonville because we love this neighborhood.  We’ve lived here for over 11 years, and we’ve really wanted to be part of the local, mom and pop, independent, boutique businesses that are here.  We love the people here, and this neighborhood is pretty amazing in how walkable it is.  It really feels like a little bit of a European city, and we pretty much never leave.”

Scott Martin
Owner, Simon's Tavern
“So people often ask me what the neighborhood is like and how’s it changed.  I have a pretty simple story.  Having lived here for 55 years, when I was an 8-year-old kid walking down the street holding my mom’s hand as she did her shopping, we would say ‘hi’ to everybody and everybody would say ‘hi’ back.  It’s 55 years later for me, I still walk down the street and say ‘hello’ to people, and they say ‘hello’ back to me.  I think that pretty much epitomizes the nice part of Andersonville.”  

Lynn Mooney
Co-owner, Women & Children First
“Being a bookstore is the core of our business, but we also know that any book found on our shelf can be found elsewhere.  The book that someone buys online from another business is the same book that they might find in our store.  And we can’t get away with that.  We can’t beat Amazon on price.  We just can’t, so our one-on-one human interactions are part of our point of difference.  That could be the moment that we put a book in an adult’s or child’s hand and talk to them about it.  But it’s also the events and programming.  As we say, Amazon still hasn’t brought your favorite author to Chicago, to your neighborhood to read to you, or answer your questions live in person.  That’s not something they can do or will do, but we do that pretty much every day.”

Hisham Khalifeh
Owner, Middle East Bakery & Grocery
“We started in 1982.  At that time it was strictly ethnic Middle Eastern food, but with the changing of the neighborhood, we changed with the neighborhood.  We do all our food from scratch daily.  We just make it for that day…This is a very excellent neighborhood.  I love it deeply.  The people that live in the neighborhood are just so excellent, so beautiful.”

Lesli Proffitt Nordstrom
Marketing Manager, Swedish American Museum
“This is really a lovely cultural center here in the heart of Andersonville.  We have a great permanent exhibit that talks about immigration to Chicago that should be important to everyone regardless of whether or not they have Swedish ancestry…This museum is a place where my family is very much at home, and I think your families and friends will be too.”

Greg O'Neil
Co-owner/Co-founder, Pastoral/Appellation
“Andersonville is sort of like a small town in the middle of a big city, which has the dual benefit of knowing people, the intimacy, the small town feel, people knowing your name, but also having a lot of the resources and interesting cultural stuff that you get in a big city like Chicago…What we love is we’re across the street from the Swedish American Museum.  When people come into the museum, they sometimes want to buy Swedish foodstuffs.  They send them over to us. We send them over to them.  Next door we have one of the oldest Swedish bars in the city, and we send people over there.  There’s a great camaraderie, and people support local business, which is really important.  Independent businesses thrive in Andersonville.”

Jacob Hukee
Store Manager, Koval
“What makes us a little different and unique than other batch distilleries, and especially against larger companies, is that we’re a grain to bottle company, which means we actually produce everything in house…It’s all part of a neighborhood that focuses on the arts, focuses on craft industry, as anything from beer, food, table-making, furniture.  It suits the personality of our company.”

Michael Ashkenasi
Sustainability Director, Andersonville Sustainable Community Alliance
“Localism is one of the core components of what we do here.  It’s not just a feel good story.  It’s really an economic development story because we’ve been able to track the dollars spent in a neighborhood like ours that has a higher percentage of locally owned businesses compared to chains. More money recirculates into the local economy.”  

Michael Roper
Co-owner, Hopleaf
“We’ve been here so long, we’ve kind of become a neighborhood institution.  We do a lot of things to support the public schools in the neighborhood, which has really tied us in. This neighborhood when we came in was really kind of a sleepy place.  It has grown to be one of the best neighborhoods to live in the city.  It has great public transit.  It still has a lot of family owned businesses.  It’s good place for people to settle into, and we think we fit into that.  I think we’re a place that’s comfortable.  We seek to not be pretentious or trendy.  Also, my wife and I we live in the neighborhood.  We walk to work.  We know all the shopkeepers in the neighborhood.  We support their businesses – they support us, so it’s a really nice little community here.  The core of our business is people who live within an 8 to 10 block area here.  A lot of them walk here.  Most of my 82 employees live close by, so we’re very tied to the neighborhood community.  And we plan on being here another 25 years.”

Sarah Hollenbeck
Co-owner, Women & Children First
“Women & Children First is actually a very exciting place because we are 1 of only 12 feminist bookstores in the United States.  There used to be over 120 feminist bookstores in the country, and now we’re one of a few still standing…Our bookstore was actually recruited to this neighborhood back in the early 1990s.  The Chamber of Commerce thought we would be a wonderful, vibrant cornerstone of the neighborhood, and that has proven to be very true.  We love this neighborhood because it has a sizable LGBT community, and it’s also very family centered.”

Kurt Chiang
Artistic Director, Neo-Futurists
“We’re for a lot of people who don’t necessarily watch a lot of theater as well as people who do watch a lot of theater.  People have been coming to our theater for a long time, and there’s an ongoing appeal to it.  It’s fun and crazy, and actually very difficult to describe…People who have never seen our show know us from being that place that has the line of folks outside and curled around the corner.  I think a lot of people are like ‘What could that possibly be?’  And eventually wonder what that line could possibly be going into for a long time before actually deciding to get into that line for this particular kind of performance.  Our attempt is try to blow them away in every possible way.”  

Brandon Wright   Co-owner, Hamburger Mary's/Mary's Attic/Andersonville Brewing Co.    “We like to say we provide a flamboyant dining experience.  It’s very colorful, kid friendly with kooky pictures on the wall, fun music.  Kids and families love it.  We also offer dinner drag shows on the weekends where you can get some entertainment while you’re eating your burger…I think Mary’s is a perfect fit for the neighborhood.  We like to say we’re an open air bar and grill for open-minded people, and this neighborhood is very diverse and open-minded.  I really feel like we’ve grown with the neighborhood, and I couldn’t think of any other neighborhood to be in.”  

Brandon Wright
Co-owner, Hamburger Mary's/Mary's Attic/Andersonville Brewing Co.
“We like to say we provide a flamboyant dining experience.  It’s very colorful, kid friendly with kooky pictures on the wall, fun music.  Kids and families love it.  We also offer dinner drag shows on the weekends where you can get some entertainment while you’re eating your burger…I think Mary’s is a perfect fit for the neighborhood.  We like to say we’re an open air bar and grill for open-minded people, and this neighborhood is very diverse and open-minded.  I really feel like we’ve grown with the neighborhood, and I couldn’t think of any other neighborhood to be in.”  

Timothy Felton
Cafe Manager, First Slice Pie Cafe
"We’ve really enjoyed being a part of this community.  It seems to be a good fit for what people want.  A lot of young families are out looking to walk around, and that’s our ideal market because we don’t do a lot of marketing.  Wanting to focus on the outreach, we don’t have a lot of extra funds to spend on that sort of thing, so we’re dependent on word of mouth and foot traffic.  Beyond that, there seems to be a great network and community feel to the businesses in Andersonville.  Other business owners have come in and introduced themselves to let us know about their business, and that makes us feel like we’re part of a bigger Andersonville family.”   

Sol Ashbach
Co-owner, Little Bad Wolf
“I’ve always loved restaurants from the time I was a little kid.  They’re important to me.  Restaurants, bars, we live our lives in them, and I believe that truly.  I think people come to a place they love, a restaurant or bar, they come there to celebrate, to mourn, to meet friends, to be alone. A neighborhood restaurant or bar can be whatever they want to make of it. When you get a like-minded group of people together that have that same passion and interest, I think you can really create something special.”  

Dennis Stanton
Owner, Swedish Bakery
“The bakery was established in 1929, and my family bought it in 1979.  We’re the last of the Swedish bakeries in the neighborhood…Andersonville is a very unique neighborhood.  We have a nice mix of people living in the neighborhood, which makes it really attractive from a retail point of view.”