WICKER PARK — Many bar and restaurant workers are returning to work as Chicago fully reopens — but Ermoni Best is not one of them.
Best grew up in Beverly and worked in fine dining restaurants for 10 years, becoming a licensed sommelier in 2017. When she lost her job at the start of the pandemic, she realized she had an opportunity to pursue a passion: increasing diversity in the industry.
Best, who is Black, said she has seen women of color be marginalized in Chicago’s hospitality industry for years. Little has changed since last summer’s reckoning around racial justice, she said, as women of color still aren’t being promoted or receiving funding for their ideas.
“I was sick of always trying to conform to be part of this world,” she said. “So I created my own.”
Best created Launch Thy Neighbor, an event series promoting chefs of color. It will have its first food and wine pairing Sunday in Wicker Park.
From 2-5 p.m. at The Point, 1565 N. Milwaukee Ave., five women chefs of color will cook small plates that Best will pair with wines. Tickets cost $120 and can be bought online. Best is not charging vendors’ fees, and ticket proceeds will directly support the chefs.
The first event is scheduled during the weekend of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery June 19, 1865.
“This whole event was created because I have some of the most talented, professionally trained women I’ve come into contact with, but they are still unable to get funding,” Best said. “By having an exposure to a new audience, network and investors, you are further empowering these business owners.”
Participating chefs are Palestinian, Black and Asian:
- Ruba Hassan and Tierra Hubbard, co-owners of Yamma restaurant, 1547 N. Milwaukee Ave.
- Brenda Siharath, sous chef at Porto restaurant, 1600 W. Chicago Ave., and private caterer
- Danielle “Chef Mook” Buchanan, Granma BB’z private catering.
- Jasmine Morrow, Full Gut Catering
By supporting businesses led by people of color, customers can intentionally support marginalized communities, Best said. Buchanan and Morrow are not affiliated with a restaurant; the Black women run their own private catering companies.
“Internal economic stimulation is directly associated with reduction of violence,” Best said. “If we are creating these businesses, we are uplifting the community itself.”
Yamma, a Palestinian restaurant, opened in Wicker Park last month with no outside funding. Hassan, who is Palestinian, said she never thought an event like Launch Thy Neighbor would exist.
“I honestly would not have thought in my wildest dreams … it’s unbelievable. This s— doesn’t happen in Chicago,” she said. “It’s not ‘let’s promote women of color.’ It’s maybe, ‘Hire one or two to meet the quota.’ It’s very exciting to have and feel that agency. Really have the ability and agency and drive to motivate us to do more and do better for our communities.”
Best said before she met Hassan she was “ignorant” about what was going on in Palestine. Hassan opened Yamma as more than 250 Palestinians, including at least 60 children, were killed in 11 days of Israeli airstrikes in May, according to the UN. Rockets fired by Hamas, the party governing Gaza since winning the last permitted election in 2006, killed 13 Israelis. A ceasefire was reached May 20.
In the same way some Americans only tune into Middle East news during times of war, Best said she felt white Americans stop paying attention to issues facing Black Chicagoans after the momentum from demonstrations fades.
“This is the reality of my life,” Best said. “Just because it’s put in the media doesn’t change the fact that it’s been going on my entire life.”
After police killed George Floyd last summer, Instagram exploded with accusations of racism throughout Chicago’s hospitality industry, including prominent businesses like The Robey in Wicker Park and Fat Rice in Logan Square.
But as restaurants and bars reopen a year later, many white managers still aren’t supporting and elevating people of color, Best said. She hopes her event draws out investors and community members who are serious about putting money behind the pledges for equity.
“I created Launch Thy Neighbor to promote an initiative about diversity, inclusion, racial representation … . I’m using food and beverage to accomplish that because it’s a way to celebrate culture,” she said. “Walk in, walk around. Taste and drink for three hours.”
Yamma is open 4-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and noon-9 p.m. Friday-Sunday in Wicker Park. Order dine-in or place an order for carryout or delivery online.
Porto is open 4-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2-10 p.m. Sundays in West Town. Make a reservation online. Hire Siharath for private catering by sending her a message on Instagram or by emailing email@example.com
Granma BB’z is Buchanan’s private catering company. Place an order by calling Buchanan at 708-996-9908.
Full Gut is Morrow’s private catering company. Place an order by sending Morrow a message on Instagram.
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