A teary-eyed Rodney Trussell (left) of R City Kitchen, a Roseland-based licensed commercial kitchen with 30 members as of October, poses with his three awards after sweeping the 2023 South Side Pitch competition. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

HYDE PARK — The owner of a shared kitchen in Roseland wowed business leaders and neighbors with a three-minute pitch, taking home three cash prizes that will help his business grow as a launchpad for local food industry professionals.

R City Kitchen, a licensed commercial kitchen and event space shared by South Side chefs, restaurateurs, bakers and caterers at 841 W. 103rd St., won a total of $15,500 at the 10th annual South Side Pitch Thursday evening.

Founder Rodney Trussell opened the kitchen in March. It already has 30 members, with another 13 on a waiting list.

In addition to the $12,000 grand prize, audience members voted R City Kitchen the “community favorite” to receive an additional $1,000 award. The business also received a $2,500 “social impact” award from the Chicago Booth School’s Rustandy Center.

R City will spend the winnings on the infrastructure needed to onboard the entrepreneurs on the waiting list, with a goal of expanding to 50 members by the end of the year, said Trussell, a 20-year veteran of the foodservice industry.

“This will help me hire more staff to reach out to the community,” Trussell told Block Club. “I’ll hire a kitchen manager and also a team that can help develop programs for the community to learn.”

The kitchen aims to expand with two new locations in South Shore and the south suburbs within the next five years while also creating a food truck hub, Trussell said.

Those communities could benefit from more shared-use kitchens, which are more common on the North and West sides of the city — and can be expensive to rent, he said in May.

Roseland native Rodney Trussell is the founder of R City Kitchen, a shared kitchen for local chefs, bakers, restaurants and other food professionals to use and grow in. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

JustUs Junkie, a Morgan Park-based company founded by a former public defender which teaches youth about the legal system through workshops and games, won the $9,000 second-place prize.

The company will use the money to launch a Spanish version of its flagship board game “Trials and Triumphs,” create a sequel based in a school setting and hire youth employees at its distribution center in Morgan Park United Methodist Church, founder April Preyar said.

“It was a fluke” that Preyar even found out about South Side Pitch, so the second-place finish is a joyous occasion, she said.

“I was on Google looking for grants, and it popped up,” Preyar said. “I didn’t even know it existed. I had no idea it was their 10th year. I thought, ‘How awesome is that? A homegrown, basically Shark Tank-style pitch.'”

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to not only be in the pitch [competition], but also meet these amazing owners of other companies,” she said.

The other winners were:

  • Third place, $5,000: BeautySKU, a North Lawndale-based app for women of color to review and buy beauty products and share beauty tips.
  • Fourth place, $2,500: Stoviink Creatives, a maker of small-batch soaps, candles, cranberry sauce and other home goods based out of the Boxville marketplace, 330 E. 51st St. in Washington Park.
  • Fifth place, $1,000: Englewood Branded, a clothing brand, store and wholesale screen-printing business at 1546 W. 63rd St. in West Englewood that offers youth entrepreneurship opportunities.

Each company’s three-minute pitch was graded by four judges on their business impact, long-term business vision, creativity, roots in the South Side and showmanship.

Trussell’s pitch took showmanship to the next level with a dramatic fakeout. He began by hyperventilating and screaming at the crowd “I can’t do this — it’s too much,” before springboarding into a pitch about how his business helps South Side food entrepreneurs who feel that way about entering the industry.

Trussell’s energy continued as it became clear he would sweep all three prizes. He teared up as each successive award was announced and jumped around praising Jesus upon receiving the grand prize.

“God is good,” the “overjoyed” winner said.

Marie Turner of Stoviink Creatives gives her pitch for the home goods business during the 2023 South Side Pitch competition. Stoviink Creatives placed fourth and received $2,500. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Second-place winner April Preyar of JustUs Junkie (right) poses with Shawna Woodruff (left) of BeautySKU and Corie Luckett of Englewood Branded after the 2023 South Side Pitch competition. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

South Side Pitch is hosted by the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, which provides resources and free legal assistance to small businesses in and around Chicago. Clinic staffers developed Shop in Place to help local businesses transition online early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The competition was “a little more focused on people that were just creating new ventures” prior to the pandemic, while organizers have since shifted focus to include existing businesses, clinic spokesperson Andrew Wimer said.

Moor’s Brewing Company, a Black-owned brewing company with plans to open a brewhouse in Chicago and expand to other cities with sizable Black populations, won last year’s $10,000 grand prize.

The Record Track, a music and entertainment store at 2804 E. 87th St. in South Chicago, won the second-place prize and two other awards for a total of $10,500.

Other previous winners and finalists include Sista Afya Community Mental Wellnessa South Shore-based mental health resource for Black womenDinobi Detergenta plant-based laundry detergent company; and Back of the Yards Coffee, which is moving to the United Yards development and also plans to open in Pilsen.

This year’s panel of judges featured Eva Brown of JPMorgan Chase, Justin Douglas of the Rustandy Center, Tessa Flippin of Capitalize VC and Richard Jones of United Airlines.

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