CHATHAM — Customers Gerri Jordan and Jeanette Foreman are sipping a glass of red wine as they polish off plates of liver and onions at Josephine’s Southern Cooking.
Across from them, in a black turtleneck and a gray, curly halo, Dorothy Reid takes a sip from her glass. She likes the smothered pork chops with rice and green beans.
For nearly 40 years, the trio has dined at the Chatham staple. They were seated at the 79th Street restaurant when it was named Captain Hard Times and operated by Mother Josephine Wade. And they were there when it was renamed Josephine’s Southern Cooking under Wade’s son, Victor Love.
There’s no other place that will know to give Foreman “extra, extra onions” with her liver and onions, she said.
Josephine’s Southern Cooking, 436 E. 79th St., celebrated its “grand reopening” Jan. 13. Love is leading the charge of a new and improved Josephine’s, adding staff and chefs, valet parking and security. The restaurant is now only open with limited breakfast and lunch hours on weekends.
It’s Love’s “one good last push” to bring customers back, boost revenue and keep the business from shutting down after struggling for more than 10 years, he said. If it doesn’t work, he will close the business — though he’s looking to open a location elsewhere.
Jordan, Foreman and Reid have promised to continue ordering their favorites and sipping their drinks for as many more years as possible. Hopefully, others are convinced to do the same, they said.
“When you walk in the door, they call you by your name,” Foreman said. “It’s a gathering place for the community with great food and exceptional service. Anyone who walks through those doors gets a feeling of what the community used to be.”
Nathanael Cole, associate general manager at Josephine’s, is in charge of branding and marketing, he said. He’s been with the restaurant for about three weeks.
Cole’s role will entail melding “the then and now” to bridge the gap and “continue the legacy,” he said.
Josephine’s will still sell its famous fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, but vegan options will soon join the menu, Cole said.
The gospel tunes played on Sunday mornings will still ring through the restaurant, but the staff will add inspirational music in the afternoon for the younger crowds and jazz and R&B on the weekends, Cole said.
The restaurant will also have wifi, Cole said. Rather than going to Starbucks, people can bring their work to Josephine’s, Cole said.
“We’re taking the established brand that’s been around for the past 37 years and taking it to the next level,” Cole said. “… We’re bringing generations together.”
Josephine’s Southern Cooking has hit a few road bumps throughout its nearly 40 years.
According to an April report by the Sun-Times, the Chatham restaurant hasn’t paid its property taxes in 12 years, owing more than $500,000. The Cook County Land Bank Authority prevented Wade and Love from losing the restaurant to real estate bettors who could pay the taxes and gain ownership of the 79th Street spot, the Sun-Times reported.
In 2022, the county auctioned Josephine’s outstanding taxes to Yasin A. Yasin, who paid $17,500 in cash to take ownership of the property, according to the Sun-Times.
Another report in October found the restaurant owes more than $22,000 in unpaid water bills and more than $7,000 in fees and fines for failed inspections.
Owners at Josephine’s are now enrolled in a payment plan with the city, Love said.
Love called the coverage of the tax issues “malicious attempts to slander my mother’s name and tarnish our reputation.”
There are hundreds of businesses struggling, he said. So why “single out a small, struggling, legacy business that has been in the community and giving through their lack for years?”
“We haven’t paid the taxes because we ain’t made no damn money to pay the taxes. And when we get a little money, we’d rather pay somebody homeless to eat than to pay these taxes in a neighborhood that has all the challenges that we’ve had to endure being here as long as we’ve been here.
“For what we’ve brought to this community, the city ought to be paying us to stay here. This neighborhood would go down if Josephine’s closed.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes the restaurant, said his office is “constantly trying to help the business in any way we can.”
When Sawyer’s office finds “new initiatives” that can keep the business afloat, the staff sends them to Love, Sawyer said. Ultimately, it’ll be up to neighbors to keep Josephine’s alive, Sawyer said.
“I’m hoping that they’ll rebound and people will understand that the food is great,” Sawyer said. “I think the best thing that anybody can do is go eat there, spend some money there, talk to Josephine and Victor and engage with them. That’s the best way to support Black businesses.”
Love has not given up hope on the 79th Street restaurant, he said.
Since the grand reopening, Love’s phone has been “blowing up,” he said. Neighbors want him to stay.
But Love’s also been searching for a second location on the South Side, North Side and suburbs to continue Wade’s legacy, he said.
Love can receive another business license because he enrolled in payment plans with the city, a spokesperson with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said.
“Debt check inspections are conducted for new license applications,” the spokesperson said. “License renewals and special event permits are not issued to applicants until any outstanding debt holds on their business license account have been resolved.”
Love is hopeful for what rebranding will do for Josephine’s in the days ahead, he said. As long as the customers continue to come, Josephine’s will stay in Chatham, Love said.
“God is going to do one of two things,” Love said. “He’s going to hold this place for us to continue, or we’re not going to make the money we need to redeem it, and we’re going to go find another place. We’ll start over.”
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