Gone Again Travel in the Austin neighborhood on May 24, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

AUSTIN — A new tour will help people experience the West Side’s history and culture through food.

The Chi-Town Soul trolley tour series, which launches Saturday, will take visitors for a ride to historical sites and Black-owned restaurants that speak to the oft-forgotten heritage of the West Side.

The tours are 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, June 5, July 17 and Aug. 21. Tickets for the trolley food tours, which are $45 and include transportation, food samples, a t-shirt, discounts and a tote bag, can be purchased online.

The Chi-Town Soul tours are organized by Gone Again Travels, which is Chicago’s first and only Black-owned travel agency storefront, founder Crystal Dyer said. It’s the group’s first Black history tour to also focus on food and local restaurants, she said.

Participants will visit historical sites like Epiphany Center for the Arts on the Near West Side, which was once a meeting spot for Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.

Tour-goers will also stop at several restaurants, including Schweet Cheesecake, 5248 W. Chicago Ave., and Two Sisters Catering, a grab-and-go soul food restaurant at 4800 W. Chicago Ave., Suite 1, founded by Austin native Veah Larde. At some stops, restaurant owners will board the trolley to offer food samples and tell the stories of their roots in Austin, their cuisine and their businesses.

Many of the food choices selected for the tour feature “that sweet-home Chicago soul food, yet it has a healthier twist,” Dyer said.

Gone Again Travel in the Austin neighborhood on May 24, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Dyer planned the trolley tours as a fundraiser for Gone Again’s sister nonprofit, Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, to fund trips for local youth to visit West Africa and to “to help the youth see further than the block they lived on.”

One participant of the youth program, Cedric Stewart, had “never thought about traveling until I got into the program,” he said. The opportunity to take trips to places in the city he’d never been to or even heard of, like the DuSable Museum, has given Stewart a fresh perspective, he said.

“I thought I was just going to always be around my neighborhood, like that’s all there was with life. But since this program, I go out and about and try to do any and everything,” Stewart said.

Dyer has operated Black history tours for years to empower residents to “recreate the narrative” around their neighborhoods by unveiling stories of events, people and places in the area that inspire pride in the community.

“They never realized that was right here in their community,” Dyer said. “There’s so many ultra-achievers that never left our community. When they learn those different facts on the tours, it makes a whole different narrative.”

Dyer hopes her newest tour will encourage visitors to come to Austin and “bring more money into the community.”

 “I want the people in Austin who have not traveled Austin to discover the beauty within. A lot of times we go outside our neighborhood looking for things they don’t realize are here,” she said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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