NORTH LAWNDALE — A restaurant specializing in healthy food is coming to a West Side area many consider to be a food desert where nutritious options are scarce.
The yet-to-be-named restaurant will be at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave., along the 16th Street business district. The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is renovating one of the six ground-floor commercial units at MLK Legacy Apartments for the restaurant. The buildout is being funded by a $166,000 grant from the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, as well as support from the Steans Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on North Lawndale.
Organizers said the restaurant will jump start the local economy and fill the gap in local eateries offering healthy meals. The kitchen will be led by chef Quentin Love, who is “notorious for creating food that nourishes the soul but is also healthy, so it nourishes the body and the mind,” said Whittney Smith, deputy director and counsel for Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.
“We don’t have a lot of anything. But what we do have, a majority of it is takeout, quick food, and it’s not the healthiest thing available,” Smith said.
Historically, 16th Street in North Lawndale was a commercial center lined with small businesses. But the stretch has struggled in recent decades, leaving vacant buildings and too few businesses.
“We wanted to really spread that development to our 16th Street corridor and attract additional business and commerce to that space because it’s a very neglected corridor … and when I grew up, it wasn’t that way,” Smith said.
Bringing in a restaurant could amplify projects led by members of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, with an aim at restoring 16th Street and the surrounding area to its former glory, Smith said.
Those projects include community gardens and outdoor event spaces, street cleanups, public art installations from local artist Haman Cross and affordable homes being built by Lawndale Christian Development Corporation in partnership with the North Lawndale Homeowners Association.
“It’s about laying another anchor in the neighborhood so we can connect all this work that’s happening in different areas … . That’s how you become a destination,” Smith said.
The MLK Legacy Apartments were built by Lawndale Christian Development Corporation at the site where Martin Luther King Jr. lived in 1966 during his campaign to end redlining in Chicago. The building is also home to the MLK Exhibit Center, a small museum that documents King’s fight against housing inequality.
The restaurant, the museum and other initiatives on 16th street will make the entire corridor a stronger and more welcoming area, Smith said.
“We want these spaces to kind of work in concert, where we have flow-through between the museum space and the restaurant. It’s just creating a fuller ecosystem of community-centered spaces that are about positivity and uplifting and will mirror the best of our culture back to ourselves,” Smith said.
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