CHATHAM – A submarine and fried chicken shop that was a fixture in Bronzeville has found a new home in Chatham, still under the leadership of a Pakistani family that’s worked more than two decades to build their legacy on the South Side.
Southtown Sub opened in February at 112 E. 71st St. The popular restaurant was on 35th Street in Bronzeville for 26 years before closing in 2020.
Owner Abdul Wajid is still at the helm, donning a golden apron and heading to the kitchen, where he and cook Mohammad Sheikh season chicken tenders, carve fresh gyro meat and douse fries with mild sauce and lemon pepper.
Wajid came to the United States from Pakistan more than 30 years ago, dreaming of owning a restaurant. Family members said he’s thrilled he can continue what he started in Bronzeville, serving popular recipes that combine his Pakistani upbringing with American traditions.
Because of a language barrier, Wajid’s relatives spoke to Block Club on his behalf.
“My dad said that this has felt like home ever since he’s been here,” said Fariha Wajid, Abdul Wajid’s daughter and Southtown Sub’s social media coordinator. “Old customers have come back. New customers have come in saying they’ve heard a lot about the restaurant from their friends.
“It has been incredible, and it’s really heartwarming. People have been so supportive.”
‘We Saw Him Give The Business His All’
Abdul Wajid has always been a passionate businessman with a knack for cooking flavorful food, Fariha Wajid said.
Abdul Wajid moved to Chicago in 1990 after visits with friends showed him how much potential for success there was here. Nabiha Mahmood — Abdul Wajid’s daughter and Southtown Sub’s communication outreach specialist — said she was 2 years old when her family came to Chicago.
“He saw so much opportunity and so much growth that people could have by just working hard,” Mahmood said. “He came here with the intention of putting us into good schools and making sure that we went to and completed college.”
When Abdul Wajid settled in the city, he “worked all sorts of odd jobs to figure out what was right for him,” Mahmood said. He landed at a sub shop, where he made Chicago-style hoagies, Mahmood said. He learned he liked making the layered sandwiches — and he was good at it, she said.
Abdul Wajid opened Southtown Sub in Bronzeville in 1994. The restaurant quickly became a second home for the family, Mahmood said.
“The opportunity came to him, and it became a family business,” Mahmood said. “As little kids, we were in the restaurant in the back. Our mom was helping him with food prep. One of them was a cashier. We grew up in this business. It was a huge dream come true for him.”
At home, Abdul Wajid would transform their kitchen into Southtown, Fariha Wajid said. He would blend the spices he loved most in Pakistani food with American flavors to create recipes.
When Mahmood and her siblings came home and smelled fresh fried chicken in the air, that told them their father was home early from work, she said.
“Recipes were born in our kitchen at home,” Mahmood said. “At home, he enjoyed experimenting and trying new things. He enjoys taking foods that exist and taking them to the next level.”
Abdul Wajid’s passion for detail often meant endless hours working and perfecting his business model, Fariha Wajid said.
“We saw him give the business his all,” Fariha Wajid said. “We would see that he was tired and ask him why he was working so hard, and he would always say, ‘For you.’”
The family shut down the restaurant in 2020 after problems with the lease, Fariha Wajid said.
Abdul Wajid had always wanted to own the building that housed his delectable creations, Fariha Wajid said. He viewed the hiccup in business as an opportunity, she said.
“[Our dad] came home one day and was like, ‘This sounds like a perfect time to look at other buildings,’” Fariha Wajid said. “We had been there for almost two decades, and he was like, ‘I think I’m ready for the next step.’”
When Fariha Wajid saw the space on 71st Street, she thought it was in “bad condition,” she said — but her father thought it was perfect.
“He came in here, and he was like, ‘This is exactly what I always dreamed of,’” Fariha Wajid said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a great neighborhood, and he loved that it was close enough to Bronzeville. He always wanted a space that had parking.”
The family trusted Abdul Wajid’s “gut instinct,” Mahmood said. As they did in 1994, the family banded together to help their father create his dream space.
Their brother, Abdul Basit Khan, a graphic designer, and his wife, Habiibah Aziz, an industrial designer, added pops of gold and cartoon sandwiches to the wall. Fariha Wajid, a photographer, created an online presence for the restaurant. Mahmood tackled connecting with the community and outreach to local officials.
The goal was to show their love and gratitude for their father’s decades of work, Mahmood said.
“We want him to enjoy what he does, and not do it in the sense that he’s trying to support his family, but because he loves it,” Mahmood said. “This is his American dream.”
The family planned to reopen on 71st Street in 2021, but the pandemic delayed them by more than a year, Mahmood said. They relaunched last month.
‘This Is His Legacy’
On a rainy day in March, Abdul Wajid stood with Sheikh as they prepared their legendary “Jim Shoe.”
Layered with roast beef, corned beef, gyro meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, tzatziki sauce, mayonnaise and mustard, and served with French fries and a canned pop, it is a monster of a meal. It’s also one of their most popular menu items, Sheikh said.
Since reopening in Chatham, old and new customers have made their way to the sandwich shop, Fariha Wajid said. Customers who grew up eating the sandwiches now stop by with their children, Mahmood said.
In the days ahead, Abdul Wajid hopes to use his business to give back to the community, Mahmood said. He wants to make his restaurant’s corner “all about family,” his and the community’s, she said.
“He did so much for us growing up. and now he doesn’t have that responsibility anymore,” Mahmood said. “He feels that responsibility to the youth in our community. This is his legacy. We want to make it special for him.”
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