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Erick Williams of Virtue Chicago
Virtue in Hyde Park; photo by Nolis Anderson

Black History Month

Spotlights

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In Chicago, every neighborhood is home to a diverse community of small businesses. This month, we’re celebrating Black History Month by featuring some of the city’s most beloved Black-owned businesses.

Meet the people behind a coffee shop giving back to the community, a gallery for multi-cultural artists, a restaurant dedicated to Black culture, and more. These are tales you can only find in Chicago.

<h4 id="Tynnetta-Qaiyim">Tynnetta Qaiyim: Black Ensemble Theater</h4>

Tynnetta Qaiyim: Black Ensemble Theater

Tynnetta Qaiyim is the Chief Operating Officer of the Black Ensemble Theater.

Neighborhood: Uptown
“I think that a key driver of racism is the lack of understanding about other people and cultures and how these cultures have contributed to the fabric of America. At Black Ensemble, we bring people together. We tell stories primarily around African-American culture and lives, but those stories are American stories. That’s American history, and we share all of that in a way that’s engaging.

We are more than just a live performing arts venue. Black Ensemble is also embedded in the community through educational outreach. We reach about 10,000 children in a normal year through our programs. We are very much integrated into the Uptown community. Without that community, we couldn’t survive, we wouldn’t thrive. And we want to make sure that we are doing right by the community that we’re in.”

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<h4 id="shermann-thomas">Shermann 'Dilla' Thomas: Chicago Mahogany Tours

Shermann 'Dilla' Thomas: Chicago Mahogany Tours

Shermann Thomas is the historian behind Chicago Mahogany Tours and the popular @6figga_dilla on TikTok and Instagram.

Neighborhood: Auburn Gresham and beyond
“When you understand the history of something, you just respect it so much more. I think it connects us to the past. It’s one thing to see a picture or see a name on a street sign or a building, but it’s not personal. 

Telling the story of how that thing or that person came to be or came to prominence, I think hearing those stories keeps history relevant. Overall, history’s just a blueprint that leads us and can, if used properly, direct our paths to a bright future. 

I want Chicago Mahogany Tours to be a vessel to highlight the South and West sides. Chicago’s the greatest city on earth, but we don’t always promote the whole city. There’s way more history to be found beyond downtown, and I think highlighting that history will lift the city up.”

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<h4 id="angela-barnes">Angela Barnes: Nobody's Darling</h4>

Angela Barnes: Nobody's Darling

Angela Barnes co-owns inclusive cocktail bar Nobody’s Darling with Renauda Riddle.

Neighborhood: Andersonville
“We definitely wanted to make sure that the space was women-centered. And for us, that meant women— not just queer women, but all women — felt comfortable being there. We started with that as our center point and expanded outward.

Since college, I’ve been very much interested in Black women poets and writers, so I went into my library and pulled some of my poetry books off the shelf. And this Alice Walker poem Be Nobody’s Darling was one of the dog-eared pages, and I realized this is our statement, this is what we want.

We wanted people to feel, when they came into our bar, that they can be who they are. They can show up as their authentic selves and we will welcome them. And we will give them a wonderful drink. I don’t think Alice Walker was really talking about drinks, but I feel like that’s part of it.”

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<h4 id="eric-williams">Eric Williams: Bronzeville Winery</h4>

Eric Williams: Bronzeville Winery

Eric Williams is the founder of The Silver Room boutique in Hyde Park. His new venture, Bronzeville Winery, is scheduled to open March 2022.

Neighborhood: Bronzeville
“There’s nothing like [Bronzeville Winery] in this neighborhood. We have to leave our community to go somewhere else. So my thought is, let’s just build that here. The same quality, the same level of service that you would get somewhere else, but build it in our own neighborhood.

The idea is that it takes just one thing for a person to see that something’s possible. For me, one of the things that can come from this wine bar is that the landscape of the street changes and people see possibilities. That’s my hope, is that other people will be incentivized and inspired to start something in Bronzeville.

It’s about neighborhood pride. We talk about the history and the legacy of Bronzeville and what this used to be. How do we take some of the beauty of the past and recreate that now in a contemporary way? I just want to instill a sense of pride in the neighborhood and the community and what we’re doing.”

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<h4 id="racquel-fields">Racquel Fields: 14 Parish Restaurant & Rhum Bar</h4>

Racquel Fields: 14 Parish Restaurant & Rhum Bar

Racquel Fields is the owner of Caribbean-inspired 14 Parish Restaurant.

Neighborhood: Hyde Park
“We are a true rum bar. What I would really like to bring to the South Side is a true cocktail experience. There are all kinds of wonderful food in this area, but it’s very difficult to find a bar that actually delivers handcrafted cocktails in the way that you might find downtown. So we work very hard on being really creative and innovative with our cocktail offerings. 

Being African American, what’s really cool about rum is that a lot of rum history is Black history. So we get to showcase our own roots by exposing our customers to the history behind rum. For instance, a lot of the cocktails on our menu are named after mythological characters from the Caribbean, which isn’t a widely studied subject, but is extremely interesting and tied directly to our own culture.”

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<h4 id="dominique-leach">Dominique Leach: Lexington Betty Smokehouse</h4>

Dominique Leach: Lexington Betty Smokehouse

Dominique Leach is the chef and owner of Lexington Betty, with several locations in Chicago.

Neighborhoods: Pullman, Near West Side, Galewood
“I was classically trained in French and Italian cooking. I’ve just always been good at barbeque, it’s always been a hobby of mine and it’s very important to my family. This is just me bringing my culture and what we grew up eating to the rest of the world. I’m just happy and lucky that people have been so receptive to it.

It means something to me to be living proof of what’s possible. I come from nothing. My mom is a single mother and she struggled. And I work hard to be that proof to other people. You can make something out of nothing. I just had a little savings and put it into the truck and despite obstacles, I’m still standing.”

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<h4 id="erick-williams">Erick Williams: Virtue</h4>

Erick Williams: Virtue

Erick Williams is the owner and executive chef of award-winning Virtue.

Neighborhood: Hyde Park
“Virtue is geared toward being an unapologetically Black space that would be open and inviting to anyone that walked in the door, and would represent the best and most cherished parts of our culture through food and the treatment of people.

We didn’t know if we were going to be busy, we didn’t know if we would be celebrated. If the truth be told, we really didn’t do it for any of that. We wanted to put an emphasis on giving opportunities to the Black and brown community, but we wanted our doors to be open for people who wanted to learn and grow. And the community embraced it. The outpouring of love and support, it’s overwhelming thinking about it.”

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<h4 id="richardsons">Craig & Tanya Richardson: Batter & Berries</h4>

Craig & Tanya Richardson: Batter & Berries

Craig and Tanya Richardson are the husband and wife team behind Batter & Berries.

Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
“My wife [Dr. Tanya Richardson] was in residency when we met, so we went on breakfast dates to try to get time together. She looked at me one day and said, ‘Do you think you’d maybe like to open a breakfast place?’

My wife did all of the interior decoration, even down to hand-making the tables. She said, ‘It’s gonna be bright. It’s going to be energetic.’ This is a place where you wake up, where that energy hits you when you walk through the door.

Being a Black business owner, it’s an awesome responsibility and opportunity to encourage others. You want to stay around and continue to inspire. And it’s important for our city and its development for Black-owned spaces to thrive.” — Craig Richardson

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<h4 id="tigist-reda">Tigist Reda: Demera Ethiopian Restaurant</h4>

Tigist Reda: Demera Ethiopian Restaurant

Tigist Reda is the executive chef and owner of Demera Ethiopian Restaurant.

Neighborhood: Uptown
“We serve authentic Ethiopian food. Our food is communal. I just like that connectedness, like you’re sharing a meal from one plate and you’re having a conversation. It just connects you organically to one another.

The neighborhood has a lot of Ethiopians, but also we have a lot of people who never had Ethiopian food. We’ve been open 13 years, but even now, half the people have never had it. So for a lot of people, it’s shocking that there’s no silverware. We can bring it out if you need it, but this is how we eat it. And most people enjoy it, it becomes fun.”

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<h4 id="guichards">Andre and Frances Guichard: Gallery Guichard</h4>

Andre and Frances Guichard: Gallery Guichard

Andre and Frances Guichard are the husband and wife team who own and operate Gallery Guichard.

Neighborhood: Bronzeville
“We got married four months before we opened the business — so we always think of the gallery as our baby.

Our mission is creating platforms for artists of the African diaspora and multicultural artists to exhibit. The real inspiration for the gallery was the shortage of platforms for multicultural artists. So the need for an African-American gallery was extreme.” — Andre Guichard

“My mom had regaled me with stories of Bronzeville’s heyday because she grew up here. It was just a no-brainer; we had to open the gallery in Bronzeville because we had to pay homage to our heritage, our culture, and the people who came before us.”  — Frances Guichard

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<h4 id="stephanie-hart">Stephanie Hart: Brown Sugar Bakery</h4>

Stephanie Hart: Brown Sugar Bakery

Stephanie Hart is the owner and founder of Brown Sugar Bakery.

Neighborhood: Grand Crossing
“I started practicing baking at home. And I missed my grandmother, I missed the way that she baked for us. I wanted that particular cake she made, which was a pineapple coconut cake.

I think that what I had the opportunity to do in my experimenting stage was to develop a cake that made me feel good and made other people feel good.

There is power in food. I think that food is emotional, when you make something with love and intention. I think Brown Sugar Bakery is part of so many families — we call them Brown Sugar Babies. It’s those kinds of connections that make me feel really, really good.”

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<h4 id="danielle-mullens">Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery</h4>

Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery

Danielle Mullen is the owner of Semicolon, Chicago’s first Black woman-owned bookstore.

Neighborhood: Wicker Park
“When I opened Semicolon, I wanted to put together two things that are emotionally effective, which are literature and art.

I never expected too many other people to be in the store. The store was created for my liking and my liking only. I just wanted somewhere to sit around and read books and look at the art. And if other people liked it, great. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be a big deal because I like it. We didn’t expect to be where we are now.

We have people from all walks of life that come in and they say the exact same thing: It feels like home, and they just want to sit and hang out all day. If you have never felt at home anywhere else, you will definitely feel at home here.”

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<h4 id="scotts">Antoine and Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop</h4>

Antoine and Arianna Scott: Atmos Coffee Shop

Antoine and Arianna Scott are the husband and wife team who own and operate Atmos Coffee Shop.

Neighborhood: Humboldt Park
“We both love coffee, we had our first date over coffee. And I’m Puerto Rican, so coffee is just the center point of everything. It’s very much a cultural thing for me.

We wanted a space where people can feel safe and welcome. With our job training for youth in the community, our goal is to remove a barrier for someone of color that wants to get into the coffee industry.” — Arianna Scott

“It’s been great. I feel like the community has just welcomed us with open arms. We now have regulars, which is really cool. We’re becoming a part of people’s lives in the community.” — Antoine Scott

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