WASHINGTON PARK — A community kitchen is in the works for a well-known South Side food desert.
Soul City Kitchens is a $4.6 million plan to give culinary entrepreneurs access to commercial kitchen space to build their businesses and boost the local economy.
Part of the city’s Invest South/West initiative, the kitchen is poised to take over a century-old former Streets and Sanitation facility, 5021 S. Wabash St., that has been vacant for more than a decade. Four proposals were submitted for the property last year, with Black-owned developer Urban Equities, LLC winning the bid.
At a recent 3rd Ward town hall meeting, Beasley and Urban Equities CEO Lennox Jackson said they would rehab the existing 1,800-square-foot building and add a 8,300- square-foot building housing all the kitchens.
Soul City Kitchens would serve as an incubator and communal space for those typically shut out of the industry, giving business owners the opportunity to work together and learn from one another, said Aaron Beasley, a chef working with Urban Equities on the project.
It also is meant to support food truck owners, officials said. And by giving emerging chefs a place to sell their food, the space also could provide more food options for an area that has been neglected for years.
The surrounding blocks are filled with fast food restaurants that lack healthier fare. And with the two closest supermarkets — Jewel in Woodlawn, Mariano’s in Bronzeville — two miles away, the incubator would fill an immediate need. A similar concept from a separate group is planned for the 43rd Street corridor.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she supports the project, whose team members include TNS Studio, Civic Projects Architecture and Build Bronzeville, the group behind Boxville.
Build Bronzeville Founder Bernard Loyd said he sees Soul City Kitchen as a partner in cultivating local talent “while addressing a key need.”
“We currently have nearly a half dozen culinary enterprises, all of whom need back of the house culinary support, and we have many more who are trying to get into Boxville,” Loyd said. “We’re excited about the possibility to work with Lennox and his team to bring folks who want to start their enterprise at Boxville or at our brick and mortar enterprises.”
In addition to kitchen space, dry storage, freezer and cooler space would also be available for rent. While dining space will be provided for chefs to test out their meals for an audience, there are no plans for an onsite restaurant, Jackson said.
“The idea is to make this a one-stop operation that will allow for chefs to do what they do best, which is concentrate on food,” said Jackson. “We want to reduce some of the hurdles for those who are food entrepreneurs.”
The city will sell the former Streets and Sanitation building to Soul Kitchens for $1. A 2020 appraisal valued the site at $90,000.
It is unclear how soon construction will begin, as the plan still needs City Council approval.
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