PULLMAN — Lexington Betty Smokehouse is taking over One Eleven Food Hall in Pullman.
The change benefits the barbecue restaurant — which owner and head chef Dominique Leach had wanted to expand — and the food hall, which saw its two other occupants leave during the pandemic. The counter-service food hall, 756 E. 111th St., is in the process of being transformed into a full-sized restaurant for Lexington Betty’s.
Leach said she needed a larger space so the restaurant’s staff could give more attention to catering, which has been “the backbone of the company, especially through the pandemic.”
Leach said her business, which she runs with the help of her wife, Tanisha, has stayed afloat during the pandemic by catering for hospitals and hosting events and food drives to remind people they’re still around.
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The food hall was originally conceived as an incubation space for Black restauranteurs to have a place to expand.
But the food hall’s two other occupants left about six months ago. The nonprofit Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, which runs the food hall, reached out to Leach at that point to see if she wanted to fully take over the space, President David Doig said.
“Our first commitment is to the [businesses] that have been there because we’ve already worked with them; we’ve invested in them,” Doig said. “So, the first step was to really think about: Is one of our existing businesses wanting to expand? … It just so happened that Dominique was in that position, and so it made sense for us to work with her on this expansion.”
Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives offered Leach a $35,000 grant for the restaurant renovation, she said. With an additional $15,000 of her own, she was able to bring in a design team to reimagine the spot.
Doig said One Eleven Food Hall was a learning experience, one that the nonprofit’s leaders will take with them in future projects.
“I think [One Eleven Food Hall] was certainly a really strong concept, but also retail is changing now,” Doig said. “We’ve had to adapt … with the pandemic.”
Leach is renovating the space in Pullman so it will be better-suited for sit-down dining and plans to hire more staff.
Pullman is an ideal neighborhood for Lexington Betty’s, Leach said. She hopes more people head to the restaurant as COVID-19 cases decrease.
“I ultimately want to be relatable to the community because the food hall has seen a lot of change in the last two years,” Leach said. “I just want to come in and make a stamp on the community and the revitalization in the area, be a part of the history of Pullman, a very rich history there.”
Leach is also getting more national attention. She was a contestant on the Food Network show “Chopped” in 2021, and will be a judge on the Food Network Canada show “Fire Masters” starting April 17. She thinks this will be good publicity for the expanded restaurant once it opens.
“My followers, particularly, have seen the evolution of the company and the evolution of chef Dominique,” Leach said. “These things excite the community, when they can see the evolution of a business and evolution of an entrepreneur, and I foresee a lot of support coming from that.”
Leach is planning a grand reopening and ribbon cutting April 30. She wants to hold Easter and Mother’s Day brunches and wants to partner with whiskey companies for tasting events, she said. There will also be viewing parties for Leach’s show once the restaurant is open.
“The community’s never seen anything like this,” Leach said. “The concept is being well-thought-out. We’re putting a lot of love and care and time into this. We’re bringing something special to the neighborhood, and we’re happy to be a part of the revitalization here. We plan on being here and enhancing the area for years to come.”
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