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Nobody’s Darling
Photo by Susanne Fairfax

Pride Month

Spotlights

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In Chicago, every neighborhood is home to a diverse community of small businesses. This month, we’re celebrating Pride Month by featuring some of the city’s inclusive and LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Meet the people behind a long-time drag club, a cocktail bar nominated for a James Beard Award, Chicago’s first Black woman-owned bookstore, and more. These are stories you can only find in Chicago.

<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 in Andersonville with Renauda Riddle.

What’s the mission behind Nobody’s Darling?
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.

What inspired the literary concept?
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.

What do you want people to know about you?
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="lynn-sarah">Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck: Women & Children First</h4>

Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck: Women & Children First

Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck are co-owners of feminist bookstore Women & Children First in Andersonville.

What’s the mission behind Women & Children First?
Our feminism informs everything we do in the store. Not only the books we order, but how we treat our staff, how we run the place and our relationships within the community.

The original shop owners both went to a conference once a long time ago. They were asked what two words would define their store and they both said “political” first and “literary” second. We’ve carried that on with the store, so we are as political as we are literary.

It’s about amplifying the voice of underrepresented people. That’s really the focus of the store and it’s evolved as feminism has evolved.

What’s special about your neighborhood?
Andersonville is such an incredible community of business owners. There’s an ecosystem here of retail and restaurants and services. We’re very aware that we’re all in this together. 

— Sarah Hollenbeck

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<h4 id="angela-leung">Angela Leung: Hing Kee Restaurant</h4>

Angela Leung: Hing Kee Restaurant

Angela Leung and her family own Hing Kee and other beloved Chinatown restaurants.

How did you get into the restaurant business?
I’m a second-generation business owner. My parents have been involved in Chicago’s Chinatown for quite some time now, being serial entrepreneurs. They’re hard-working people — they work probably 100-hour weeks, seven days a week.

I do everything from making the noodles to business admin stuff. I definitely grew up at the restaurant. It was such a huge part of my identity and always a calling to be a part of the food business.

What sets Hing Kee apart?
I think what makes Hing Kee special is all the family recipes that are made with love. We make all the fillings, the dumpling skins, and the noodles from scratch. This is very much a family establishment. It’s hard to put into words, but it is quite special.

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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, serving barbecue in Pullman and throughout Chicago.

What inspired you to start Lexington Betty?
I was classically trained in French and Italian cooking. I’ve just always been good at barbecue, 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.

What does it mean to you to be a business owner?
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="danielle-mullens">Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery</h4>

Danielle Mullen, Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery

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

What’s the mission behind Semicolon?
When I opened Semicolon, I wanted to put together two things that are emotionally effective, which are literature and art.

What’s the reaction been from the community?
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.

What do you want people to know about your store?
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="edward-gisiger">Edward Gisiger: Kit Kat Lounge

Edward Gisiger: Kit Kat Lounge

Edward Gisiger runs drag bar and restaurant Kit Kat Lounge, a long-time institution in the LGBTQ+ Northalsted neighborhood.

What inspired the Kit Kat Lounge?
The Kit Kat Lounge name comes from Cabaret. That’s the kind of place we wanted to create, where anyone could go and leave their worries behind and enjoy a night out.

Tell us about how Kit Kat Lounge became a Northalsted establishment. 
It was our 20-year anniversary in 2020. We’ve been in the same location the whole time. We were here when there was a dirt road next to us. We had a mixed crowd from very early on and that’s only progressed and gotten more diverse over the years. You can go in there and see every kind of person having dinner together and enjoying themselves together.

Why is it important to support neighborhood businesses?
We are a local, gay-owned business. We’re part of Chicago’s history and culture. It’s not just about Kit Kat. All of the family-owned restaurants in Chicago are struggling and we need support to make it through this.

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<h4 id="shirley-jenn">Shirley Kienitz and Jenn Stadler: Wolfbait & B-Girls

Shirley Kienitz and Jenn Stadler: Wolfbait & B-Girls

Shirley Kienitz and Jenn Stadler own Wolfbait & B-Girls, a local boutique for makers in Logan Square.

How did Wolfbait & B-Girls come to be?
We were both selling our own individual women’s wear collections in the early 2000s. It was difficult to get the big stores to pick up a small brand. It was hard to meet their minimums with the kind of ethical manufacturing we wanted to do. So we joined forces to create a place that would facilitate young designers like ourselves.

We just wanted to create a place where you could be an artisan and have a venue to connect with customers as well as a community of artisans that could share their expertise and experiences.

What makes your store unique?
I really enjoy the communal atmosphere of our store, it’s just such an intimate experience. It’s about people connecting, people expressing; it’s very different from the commercial commodity of the big picture fashion industry. — Shirley Kienitz

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