News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, named as 2018 Harvard Graduate School of Design Loeb Fellow

The Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design recently named Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room on 53rd Street, one of nine members of its 2018 class of “midcareer practitioners whose work has influenced the built and natural environment.” The fellowship consists of a year of independent study at Harvard.

Since relocating The Silver Room to Hyde Park at 1506 E. 53rd Street in 2015, Williams has partnered with the University of Chicago to bring several activities and spaces to Hyde Park, including the Harper Court Summer Music Series, kicking off with Poi Dog Pondering on Wednesday, June 28; the CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival, recently named “Best Public Art Event” by the Chicago Reader; the CONNECT Gallery at 1520 S. Harper Court, now exhibiting “100 Canvases;” the upcoming 14th Downtown Hyde Park /Sound System Block Party on July 15; and other projects in the works.

The Silver Room will continue to operate during Williams’ fellowship.

“It’s been a great asset to have The Silver Room as one of 53rd Street’s most vibrant businesses,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “Eric Williams is a respected creative force in the community, and we’ve been honored to collaborate with him on a number of projects."

In making the announcement, the LOEBlog noted, “Eric Williams is the founder of the Silver Room on the South Side of Chicago, for 20 years an influential retail and community art hub in the city. The Silver Room Sound System Block Party attracted more than 15,000 attendees in 2016, and the three-day CONNECT Hyde Park Arts Festival, a collaboration with the University of Chicago, activated empty storefronts with pop-up art exhibits organized by some of Chicago's leading curators. During his Loeb Fellowship Williams will focus on strategies for replicating the Silver Room model nationally and methods for measuring the social and economic impact of arts entrepreneurship.”

The year-long Loeb Fellowship program has been in existence since 1971, offering participants the opportunity to “…strengthen their ability to advance positive social outcomes and to make the world a better place for all.”

Williams found out about the program through his longtime friend, Emmanuel Pratt, a 2017 Loeb Fellow, and executive director of Chicago’s Sweet Water Foundation – teaching kids how to grow sustainable businesses through urban agriculture and other programs. Participants in Pratt’s foundation built displays for use in The Silver Room, learning construction and interpersonal skills in the process. Based on Pratt’s recommendation, Williams was asked to speak at Harvard this past fall on alternative models of retail, and he was then invited to apply to the program.

Williams starts class on August 22, and will be eligible to audit any class at Harvard or MIT. He plans to focus on leadership and business courses as well as urban planning and looks forward to connecting with the students and professors. Williams will share housing with several of the other Fellows, and they will meet weekly to discuss their coursework and future plans.

This will be a big change for Williams, who was last in school nearly 25 years ago as a finance major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to continue my education, and to take a step back, reflect, and plan the next phase of my career,” he said.

It will be business as usual at The Silver Room, with Jenny Stites as manager, and Carter Dorsey as weekend assistant manager, with Williams working remotely and coming back to Chicago on a monthly basis to check in at the store and spend time with his daughter. Williams’ longtime business associate, Rob McKay, will continue to manage the CONNECT art gallery.


Eric Williams at The Silver Room - photo courtesy of Eric Williams

Harper Court Summer Music Series back for third year, kicking off with Poi Dog Pondering on Wednesday, June 28, from 6-9 p.m.

The University of Chicago, in collaboration with Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, presents the third year of free, open-air summer concerts with the Harper Court Summer Music Series – starting in just three weeks. Located in the courtyard area at 5235 S. Harper Court off 53rd Street, the series includes three concerts scheduled for the last Wednesdays of June, July, and August – June 28, July 26, and August 30.

The music series will begin with the inventive and eclectic band, Poi Dog Pondering, on Wednesday, June 28, from 6-9 p.m. The show will open with DJ Lady D and House-O-Matics. Led by Frank Orrall and featuring 15+ band members, Poi Dog Pondering has been playing for 30+ years, incorporating orchestral arrangements and aspects of electronic, house, and soul music in their acoustic rock style.

The second concert will feature Res with DJ Joe Kollege, on Wednesday, July 26, from 6-9 p.m. Res’ musical style is a blend of indie pop, soul, and rock, and her third studio album, “Reset,” was released in late 2016.

The series will close with jazz great Dee Alexander, winner of NPR’s 2014 “Best Jazz Vocal” award, with DJ Duane Powell on Wednesday, August 30, from 6-9 p.m.

Food and beverages will be available for purchase from Harper Court restaurants, and paid parking is available in the Harper Court parking garage, the surface lot on Harper Avenue, and on the street.

Harper Court is a mixed-use retail development with businesses including AT&T, Chipotle, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Hyatt Place Hotel, Ja’ Grill, Native Foods, LA Fitness, NoteworthyNotes, Porkchop, Roti Modern Mediterranean, Sir & Madame, ULTA Beauty, and VILLA  – with new businesses Aloha Poke Co. and Vanille Patisserie scheduled to open in mid-summer.

For more information about the series, please go to

Harper Court Summer Music Series Poster

Hyde Park Farmers Market to feature more live music, children’s musicians in 2017 season

The 2017 Hyde Park Farmers Market will kick off at Harper Court on Thursday, June 1, at 7 a.m., with a full schedule of live music each week through October 26. Children’s musicians, a popular feature last year, are scheduled the first Thursday of each month, with two performers in August.

Live music starts at 8 a.m., and will run until the market closes at 1 p.m. The market is located on Harper Court, just off 53rd Street, between Chipotle Mexican Grill and Valois Cafeteria.

The caliber of musicians is impressive, with notables scheduled for June such as Isaiah Collier, a tenor saxophonist who has performed at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival; Phil Passen, a hammered dulcimer player; Kat Best, cellist; JD Kostyk, guitarist; Darius Hampton, saxophonist, composer, and educator; Kielbasa & Kimchi, flute/piano duo with Carol Jaryzna and Simmon Yoon; Kolleen Blume, fiddle; Aaron Smith, banjo; and George Urgo, blues guitarist.

The Hyde Park Farmers Market added music in 2016. The experiment generated a lot of interest from shoppers and passersby, particularly children and their caregivers.

Eric Reaves, Program Manager of the South East Chicago Commission and Director of the Hyde Park Farmers Market commented, “The addition of live music has been a great asset to the farmers market – both vendors and shoppers alike have all commented favorably on the quality of the performers. We look forward to the 2017 season and invite everyone to come out and experience it for themselves!”

This year, children’s musicians will play from 9:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., and include Jeanie B! (June 1), Laura Doherty (July 6), Anne-Marie Akin (August 3), Laura Doherty (August 10), Anne-Marie Akin (September 7), and Duke Otherwise (October 5).

Jeanie B!, scheduled for June 1, prompted Time Out Chicago to write, “Jeanie B!’s music is the one of the best things to happen to children in Chicago this decade!” Her original music has won multiple awards from Parent’s Choice and Billboard Magazine. She is an artist in residence for Ravinia’s “Reach, Teach and Play” program and teaches music at several area preschools.

Laura Doherty, scheduled for July 6 and August 10, is a nationally-touring children’s recording artist with four award-winning albums. She was the director of the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms program for more than a decade, and she has performed at Ravinia, Lollapalooza, and many other venues and festivals across the country.

Anne-Marie Akin, scheduled for August 3 and September 7, is a singer, songwriter, musician, storyteller, and an instructor with the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wiggleworms program. She pioneered a Chicago Public School preschool music program on Chicago’s West Side, and co-leads the Wiggleworms in Residence program in the Lawndale neighborhood.

Duke Otherwise, scheduled for October 5, is a Madison, Wisconsin-based musician who plays nearly 150 shows a year throughout the Midwest and beyond. According to his website, his “energetic live show is filled with improvisation, audience participation, dancing, and outrageous fun!”

The full June musician schedule includes:

Thursday, June 1

8-9:30 a.m. – Isiaiah Collier (saxophone)

9:45-11:15 a.m. – Jeanie B! (children’s musician)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Phil Passen (dulcimer)

Thursday, June 8

8-9:30 a.m. – Kat Best (cello)

9:45-11:15 a.m. – JD Kostyk (guitar)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Darius Hampton (saxophone)

Thursday, June 15

8-9:30 a.m. – Kielbasa & Kimchi (flute & piano)

9:45-11:15 a.m. – Kolleen Blume (fiddle)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – George Urgo (blues guitar)

Thursday, June 22

8-9:30 a.m. – Aaron Smith (banjo)

9:45-11:15 a.m. – Kat Best (cello)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Darius Hampton (saxophone)

Thursday, June 29

8-9:30 a.m. – Isiaiah Collier (saxophone)

9:45-11:15 a.m. – JD Kostyk (guitar)

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – George Urgo (blues guitar)


To learn more about the Hyde Park Farmers Market, visit the market’s Facebook page.


Jeanie B! from Jeanie B! Music, photo courtesy of the artist
Laura Doherty, photo courtesy of the artist
Anne-Marie Akin, photo courtesy of the Daily Herald
Duke Otherwise, photo courtesy of the artist

Chicago’s Dearborn Denim & Apparel to open first-ever retail store in Hyde Park on May 20

Rob McMillan, a resident of the South Loop and founder of Dearborn Denim & Apparel, will open the online retailer’s first-ever brick-and-mortar store in Hyde Park at 1504 E. 53rd Street on May 20, in between Modern Cooperative and The Silver Room.

The opening of the store is part of the University of Chicago’s effort to bring new retailers to 53rd Street – particularly soft goods and apparel – creating a diverse mix of local and national retailers, as mentioned by participants in recent community focus groups.

At a time when “shop local” and “made in America” are becoming increasingly important to conscientious shoppers, Dearborn Denim & Apparel is a rarity – offering denim jeans for men and women designed and manufactured at the company’s factory in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

The jeans are made from premium stretch denim loomed in Georgia from West Texas long staple cotton, and sewn by Dearborn’s local Chicago staff of 15 employees. McMillan sells directly to customers.

In announcing the new Hyde Park store, McMillan said, “This is a major development for Dearborn Denim & Apparel – until this point we’ve primarily been selling our jeans online, but our new store will allow customers to try on all the different fits and washes – experiencing the quality first-hand before making a purchase. Hyde Park is a great community, and we’re excited to become a part of it."

In speaking with McMillan, we learned that the concept for Dearborn Denim & Apparel, officially started in 2016, came when McMillan, formerly a Chicago Board of Trade bond trader, heard his wife Katy’s complaints that the expensive jeans she was buying would start sagging midday, and become unwearable after several washes. McMillan was intrigued, and recounted, “OK, what if we started making jeans in Chicago, what would that look like? So I started researching denim online, visiting apparel manufacturers, and developing a plan. When we realized we could get a great pair of jeans out the door at a reasonable price, made in Chicago, I said, I want those and I bet other people would too."

 “Dearborn Denim & Apparel offers a unique concept that can become a destination for shoppers from Hyde Park as well as throughout the city,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “This is truly a ‘shop small/shop local’ business, and we’re honored to have their flagship location in Hyde Park."

The store is an important new addition to 53rd Street, establishing a strong apparel presence with existing businesses such as Sir & Madame, The Silver Room, Akira, and  Jojayden.

Dearborn Denim & Apparel offers five different fits for men and women (tailored, skinny high-rise, slim, straight leg, and relaxed) in dark wash, medium wash, black at prices ranging from $59 to $65.  Khakis, shorts, and tops for women will be coming soon.

To learn more about Dearborn Denim & Apparel, visit their website.

Dearborn Denim & Apparel Logo - image courtesy of Dearborn Denim & Apparel
Dearborn Denim & Apparel men's and women's jeans - photo courtesy of Dearborn Denim & Apparel
Dearborn Denim & Apparel jeans in production - photo courtesy of Dearborn Denim & Apparel

First Thursday 2017 season kicks off on May 4 with 40+ participating businesses

The 2017 season of Hyde Park’s “First Thursday” event kicks off on Thursday, May 4, from 5-8 p.m. with more than 40 retailers, restaurants and other businesses offering discounts, raffles, refreshments, special menu items, and more.

The event, which features businesses from S. Lake Park Avenue, 53rd, 55th, and 57th Streets and the surrounding commercial streets, is back for its second year and includes Hyde Park newcomers such as Nando’s PERi-PERi, Roti Modern Mediterranean, Target, and Whole Foods Market.

The full list of participating businesses and offers can be found on the event website – S. Lake Park Avenue/53rd Street area highlights include free frozen slushie samples (approx. 4 oz.) at McDonald’s; a free 2 oz. scoop of gelato at Whole Foods Market; one free Starbucks Grande (16 oz.) beverage at Target Express with receipt from $20 store purchase from 5-8 p.m.; $6 classic, strawberry, and peach margaritas at Chant; a free can of soda and bag of chips with any oven-baked sandwich at Café 53; two weeks of free yoga to anyone who registers for classes that night at Core Power Yoga; an $11 savings on two movie tickets, popcorn, and sodas at the Harper Theater; a $200 savings on apartment move-in fees at Hyde Park Property Management; a $7 island cocktail at Ja’ Grill; a “First Thursday” Happy Hour from 4-7 p.m. at Kimbark Beverage Shoppe for those 21 and over as well as a promo code to save $10 on tickets to the June 3 & 4 Hyde Park Brew Fest (use the code “FIRSTTHURS” on May 4 ONLY at the event website); a free week’s pass at LA Fitness; BOGO coupon at Nando’s PERi-PERi; a mini peanut butter parfait sample at Native Foods; $200 off a complete pair of glasses (and cocktails!) at Pearle Vision; and $150 savings on apartment administration fees at Vue53. Businesses offering discounts include A10 Hyde Park, Akira, Ancien Cycles & Café, Bonne Sante Health Foods, Hyde Park Produce Market, Hyde Park Records, Jojayden, Kilwins, Leona’s, Mikkey’s Retro Grill, Modern Cooperative, NoteworthyNotes, Pockets, Porkchop, The Promontory, Rajun Cajun, Roti Modern Mediterranean, The Silver Room, The Silver UmbrellaSir & Madame, Sprocket & Stone, Zberry, and Yusho.

Offers from 55th Street business include a junior sandwich and side for $5 at Bergstein’s Deli, a free 8-oz. Metropolis coffee at Dollop Coffee Co. with the purchase of any food item, a 15% discount if you correctly answer a trivia question at First Aid comics,15% off your entire purchase at Gilda's Designer Thrift Boutique; and free nail grinding for dogs and cats, free freshly baked grain-free blueberry and banana dog cookies, $5 off coupon for next grooming appointment and custom dog tag when a grooming appointment is booked during event, free glass of red or white wine from 57th Street Wines, and a shot for the pups of Mr. Grumples doggie protein shakes at Parker's Pet Spa & Boutique.

On 57th Street, offers include a wine tasting at 57th Street Wines; a free “mystery book” with purchase at 57th Street Books; free chips & salsa vouchers at Cemitas Puebla; and discounts at Medici Bakery & Delicatessen; Noodles, Etc.; and Powell’s Books Chicago.

All offers are one per person, while supplies last from 5-8 p.m. on May 4, with the mention of “First Thursday.” Several businesses such as Chant and Roti Modern Mediterranean will offer discounts all day long.

“Downtown Hyde Park has a great mix of local, independent businesses combined with popular national chains,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “The First Thursday events are an excellent opportunity for people to visit their favorite businesses for discounts and explore new businesses, as well.”

If you are a local Hyde Park business owner and would like to participate in the event, please contact Amy Srodon at

Visit the event website and Facebook page.

First Thursday graphic
First Thursday graphic

Shop and celebrate local – Hyde Park businesses turn up the romance for Valentine’s Day

Hyde Parkers who want to stay close to home for Valentine’s Day shopping and celebrating will have lots of options on 53rd Street to make it a holiday to remember for their sweethearts.


Kilwinshas a wide assortment of candy and chocolates perfect for gift-giving. Valentine’s Day specials include chocolate-dipped long stem strawberries – six for $30 and 12 for $55 in milk, dark, or white chocolate. 5226 S. Harper Avenue.

NoteworthyNotesin addition to a selection of Valentine’s Day cards, NoteworthyNotes also has great gift options for everyone on your list, including cookies, socks, books, pillows, candles, and more. The store also offers same-day printing on select personalized items – even if you’ve waited till the last minute, you can look extra thoughtful with a monogrammed cocktail shaker, travel mug, journal, stationery, and more. Personalization is also available with more notice on pens, flashlights, phone cases, and clipboards. 5231 S. Harper Court.

Modern Cooperative look to Modern Cooperative for a selection of unique jewelry and cards for your honey. 1500 E. 53rd Street.

The Silver Room – with a great collection of jewelry, records, t-shirts, backpacks, hats, and sunglasses, you’re sure to find something special for your Valentine. Or consider a gift certificate for The Silver Room’s in-store massage therapist. 1506 E. 53rd Street.

Jojayden – if your beau or male sweetheart has an eye for fashion, you’ll want to check out Jojayden’s custom-made suits and shoes, and accessories including watches, cufflinks, bracelets, belts, socks, and more. 1457 E. 53rd Street.

Sir & Madame – shop for “classic with a twist” clothing, shoes, and accessories from the store’s namesake clothing label. 5225 S. Harper Court.

Freehling Pot and Pan Co. – keep the little ones busy and come home with delicious cupcakes at Freehling Pot and Pan’s free Valentine's Cupcake Decorating Workshop on Saturday, February 11 from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. The workshop is for children aged 5 and up accompanied by an adult, with all materials provided. 1365 E. 53rd Street.


A10 – is offering a Valentine’s Day a la carte menu or Couples Bar Special ($35 for half bottle of Champagne and choice of two snacks). The menu includes a choice of Clam Chowder or Fritto Misto and special dinners for two – “Lady and the Tramp” Squid Ink Bucatini for $30, Whole Roasted Branzino for $45, or 22-ounce Bone-In Ribeye with Lobster and Sweet Potato Hash and Truffle Béarnaise for $65. Specials are available from Friday through Tuesday, February 10-14. Call 773-288-1010 for reservations. 1462 E. 53rd Street.

Chantstop by for a before or after dinner drink on Valentine’s Day. The restaurant is offering drink specials including a PAMA Belvedere Martini for $6.00, a glass of Mark West Pinot Noir for $6.00, and a glass Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne for $8.00, along with a complimentary long-stem tuxedo strawberry dessert. Specials are available from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on February 14. 1509 E. 53rd Street.

Ja’ Grillget the night started with Ja’ Grill’s complimentary rum tasting from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday night, featuring Captain Morgan rums. Guest Host Jeremy Geiger will be sampling Cannon Blast and Loconut rum. Be sure to try the $7 Classic Daiquiri made with Captain Morgan Cannon Blast. All customers with reservations that night will receive a bottle of select bottle of wine or sparkling wine (per couple). 1510 E. Harper Court.

Porkchop – offering a special Valentine’s Day menu for $33 per person, including the choice of any appetizer, soup or salad, and 14 different entrées; along with a deep-fried brownie dessert. Entrée options include Southern Fried Chicken, Slow Smoked BBQ Chicken, Blackened Catfish Filet, burgers, ribs, and more. The menu is available from Friday through Tuesday, February 10-14. 1516 E. Harper Court.

The Promontoryenjoy a romantic dinner and a show at The Promontory on Tuesday, February 14. The second floor concert hall will host the “Valentine’s Day Love and Laughter” concert featuring R&B vocalist Michel’le, along with Just Nesh, Da Wild Cat, BLT, and Gemini Porter, while the first-floor restaurant will offer two prix fixe dining specials. Executive chef Andrew Graves will offer two tasting menus with tailored options:

  • 5:30 p.m. Seating - For lovebirds looking to attend the Michel’e concert at 7 p.m., Graves has created a three-course menu with dessert to go for $45. Offerings include Hearth Grilled Asparagus, Boneless Lamb Loin for two, and Pomegranate-Macadamia Cupcakes guests can take upstairs with them to enjoy during the concert. A package ticket including dinner and the concert is also available for $85 per person.
  • 7:30 p.m. Seating - This expanded five-course tasting menu includes two additional courses, including Capital Oysters on the half shell and salmon and mussels with celery root, mustard, confit potato, and tarragon butter. The dinner costs $65 per person with an optional wine pairing available for an additional $25.  

The Promontory will not offer the regular menu or accept walk-ins on February 14; reservations can be made here. 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue.

Yusho – offering a special “Lover's Meal” for $25 per person, featuring an Octopus Takoyaki Steam Bun, BBQ Brisket Ramen, Miso Chocolate Brownie, and a glass of Cava. A Shrimp Skewer ($5) or Lobster Tail ($10) are available as additional options. The special menu is available from Friday through Tuesday, February 10-14. Visit Yusho for your Valentine's Day meal and receive a complimentary Matcha-dusted chocolate to share with your special someone. 1301 E. 53rd Street.


If you and your sweetie like to work out together, Core Power Yoga is hosting special Couples Yoga classes for Valentine's Day. Come by Friday, February 10 for a 6 p.m. class; Saturday, February 11 for a 10:30 a.m. class; or Wednesday, February 15 at 6 a.m. for an "Old Soul Flow" class. If you're both R&B fans stop in for special classes on Sunday, February 12 at 9:30 a.m. or Wednesday, February 15 at 6 p.m. Drop in rate is $25 per person or $22 for UChicago students, faculty, and staff. 1539 E. 53rd Street, Suite 2N.

Valentine's Day Gift Ideas at NoteworthyNotes
Valentine's Day Gift Ideas at NoteworthyNotes
Personalized Gifts at NoteworthyNotes
Personalized Gifts at NoteworthyNotes
A10 Valentine's Day Menu
A10 Valentine's Day Menu
Michel'le Concert at The Promontory
Michel'le Concert at The Promontory

“Mitigating Evidence” Exhibit at 53rd Street’s CONNECT Gallery

The positive, community spirit of the CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival – the three-day, multi-sited art event that took place November 18-20, 2016 – lives on in a new temporary exhibition space named the CONNECT Gallery, currently located at 1504 E. 53rd Street. The gallery’s current show, “Mitigating Evidence,” is an exhibition of writing and art created by students in the Free Write Arts & Literacy program at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Facility.

The exhibit is curated by Free Write staff, Chelsea Ross of Chicago Art Department and Rob McKay of THĒARĒ group and The Silver Room. As explained in the exhibition materials:

 “…‘Mitigating Evidence’ is a strategy to interrupt the presumptions, stereotypes and fears about people in detention, jail, and prison. (It) is a space in which incarcerated artists are reclaiming their artistry, authorship, and, therefore, their humanity. Mitigating evidence is presented in legal proceedings, either to impact the court’s decision or to alleviate harsh sentencing. Presenting a curated selection of work made by Free Write Arts & Literacy students, the exhibition offers community members the opportunity to view a wide range of art and writing, learn about issues of juvenile incarceration in Illinois, and respond to the sociopolitical climate that has given rise to the Prison-Industrial Complex. CONNECT Gallery’s mission is to take intimidation out of the gallery experience by merging community and culture, creating a space that inspires social innovation through art."

The 53rd Street Blog recently met with Ryan Keesling, executive director of Free Write Arts & Literacy and Free Write alumnus, 18-year-old Marshawn Knight, to learn more about the organization and exhibition.

Keesling was a graduate education student at Northwestern in 2000, when he founded the program, originally a part-time literacy project within the Nancy B. Jefferson Alternative School at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. In working to improve reading skills with teens left behind in the education system, Keesling found that using the students’ own stories as authentic text versus beginner reading books was inspiring to them, and ultimately led to other components in the program, including creative writing, visual art, music production, and audio recording. In its simplest form, the program uses art as a means of delivering its participants to the next phase of their lives. Keesling explains, “(Creative work) fleshes out the character of the person – it’s a deeper story than just that one bad thing that the person may or may not have done – for the artist themselves and for the public to change the narrative.” He says, “Don’t write anyone off; if they’re given a place to grow and shine, they will.”

In Knight’s case, he doesn’t necessarily want to be a professional writer, but he’s using his writing skills as a tool to express himself – “…to free myself, (and gain) a better understanding of who I am through art – through writing instead of doing negative things, (using expression as) a way to get things out.”

According to the organization’s website, "Each week, Free Write engages approximately 65 youth between the ages of 12 to 24 in a myriad of literacy building and positive youth development programs. Each student keeps a portfolio of their daily progress in tutoring, creative writing, visual art, audio recording and independent work. The Free Write team comprised of board, staff and volunteers engage with court-involved youth year-round, during school and after school." The organization has nine staff members, including five full time workers plus four part-time alumni program members.

Contributions to the Free Write Arts & Literacy program are always welcome, through the sale of anthologies (available at the gallery or The Silver Room), monetary donations, or donation of materials such as composition books, law dictionaries, graphic novels, rhyming dictionaries, or GED/ACT books. More information on ways to support the program can be found here.

The “Mitigating Evidence” exhibit closes on Thursday, February 9, with a reading and discussion featuring Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, author of the acclaimed book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy. The evening begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the reading at 7:15 p.m.

Hours for the space are Tuesday and Thursday 12-3 p.m., Saturday 1-6 p.m., and by appointment by contacting Keesling via email. After this exhibition, the CONNECT Gallery may be moving to another location in Hyde Park, with details to be released soon.

@freewritechi Instagram Post for "Mitigating Evidence" Exhibition
@freewritechi Instagram Post for "Mitigating Evidence" Exhibition
Cover Art for 2016 Free Write Arts & Literacy Anthology
Cover Art for 2016 Free Write Arts & Literacy Anthology

Nando’s PERi-PERi opens on 53rd Street with events for Kenwood Academy High School and UChicago students, faculty, and staff

South African-Portuguese-themed chicken restaurant Nando’s PERi-PERi will kick off its official Hyde Park launch with special days aimed at Kenwood Academy High School and UChicago students, faculty, and staff.

For its grand opening on Saturday, January 14, Nando’s will donate 100 percent of the day’s sales to neighboring Kenwood Academy to help fund college visits for the school’s students. The restaurant, located at 1447 E. 53rd Street, will be open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., and customers will pay standard Nando’s prices, with all the day’s receipts contributed to the school.

“Nearly nine out of every 10 Kenwood Academy graduates continue on to a four-year institution, and we are proud to help support this outstanding tradition,” Burton Heiss, CEO of Nando's PERi-PERi, said in a statement. “It’s all about being good neighbors, and Nando's looks forward to becoming an integral part of the South Side.’”

On Tuesday, January 17, University of Chicago students, faculty, or staff members can receive one free spicy flame-grilled 1/4 chicken, chicken sandwich, wrap, or pita when they dine in at the restaurant and show a valid UChicago identification between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. (see full terms and conditions below).

The Hyde Park Nando’s, located in the space formerly occupied by Clarke’s Diner, will employ approximately 40 people. Ninety percent of its employees are South Side residents. Kristin Letsinger, general manager of the Hyde Park location explained that half of its workers are new employees are from the local neighborhood and the other half are current Nando’s employees who were excited to transfer to a location closer to home. The restaurant will be open for business Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

The first Nando’s opened in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the company has expanded to include 1,200 restaurants in 23 countries on five continents. Each location features original works of art to convey its African-Portuguese origins, and Nando’s is known as the largest collector of South African contemporary art in the world.

The Hyde Park Nando’s includes an exterior corrugated-metal mural, as well as other works hand-painted in Hyde Park by South African street artist Kilmany-Jo Liversage in November 2016.

*UChicago Event Terms & Conditions: Only available on Tuesday, January 17th between 11:00 am and 10:00 pm CST at Nando's PERi-PERi located at 1447 E. 53RD Street, Chicago. One free 1/4 chicken, chicken sandwich, wrap, or pita per person, on a first come first served basis, dine-in only. You need to pay for any extras, including sides or drinks (only if you want them!). Must present valid UChicago ID. Dine-in only; no delivery or to-go orders. Not valid at any other Nando’s location.

Kenwood Academy High School/Nando's PERi-PERi Fundraiser Graphic
UChicago/Nando's PERi-PERi Free Food Graphic

New 53rd Street restaurant, Roti Modern Mediterranean, offers chance to win one year of free weekly lunches for two

To celebrate the mid-January opening of its new Hyde Park location – 1526 E. 53rd Street at S. Lake Park Avenue – Roti Modern Mediterranean is offering one lucky winner the chance to win free weekly lunches for two for an entire year. Entrants can win in two ways – by tagging social media posts with #FoodThatLovesYouBack showing how you “live, eat, and love” or by filling in an online form and writing about “who you would share your Roti meals with.”
Their fast-casual, Mediterranean diet-based menu features whole grains, a wide variety of vegetables, and antibiotic- and hormone-free lean proteins including chicken, steak, salmon, and falafel.
Started in 2007, Chicago-based Roti Modern Mediterranean has 25 restaurants in Illinois; Washington, DC; Maryland, Virginia, and New York, with 13 in the Chicagoland area. The Hyde Park location is currently hiring part-time team members; interested applicants may apply here.

Faces of 53rd Street: Tony Winters of Ancien

Hyde Park’s Ancien is becoming known in the neighborhood for its fast and friendly bike repair service; selection of Bianchi, Reid, Ritte, Scott, and Tern bikes; and wide range of cycling accessories, but it’s also a great option for a quick cup of Big Shoulders coffee and delicious all-day dining and catering.

Tucked under the Metra station at 1558 E. 53rd Street, Ancien provides a welcoming, light-filled setting to enjoy its menu of omelettes, waffles, breakfast flat breads, sandwiches, salads, soups, fresh pastas, and turkey, veggie, and salmon burgers. The selections are all prepared by Ancien’s inspirational chef, Chicago native Tony Winters, who just two years ago thought he might never be able to cook again.

After suffering a brain aneurysm and a stroke, the 35-year-old Winters lost all feeling on the right side of his body. His entire family banded together in prayer for Winters, the eldest of 16 children. His aunt’s pastor even came all the way to Chicago from Bolivar, Tennessee, to join them. Eventually, with a lot of hard work and determination, combined with Winters’ unfailingly positive attitude, he was able to get back into the kitchen.

We recently met with Winters to learn more about how he became a professional chef and what brought him to 53rd Street.

How did you first get interested in cooking?

“My earliest cooking experiences were in my grandmother’s kitchen, here on the South Side of Chicago.  I didn’t have a choice – she put me to work cleaning the greens and peeling sweet potatoes – but I grew to like it.  Spending this time with my grandmother making family meals definitely got me interested in cooking, but it wasn’t until I started the culinary arts program at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy (located at 31st Street and King Drive), that I really got serious about cooking as a potential career.

I had wanted to be in the auto mechanics program, but there wasn’t an opening, and the culinary arts lecturer, who was the executive chef at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel, told me I might as well make the best of it since I was there. I ended up winning a scholarship to Kendall College, then located in Evanston, through C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program). This was a crazy time for me – I was cooking breakfast in the Dunbar school cafeteria in the mornings, I was on the football team and practicing in the afternoons, and I was also commuting back and forth to Kendall College in Evanston from the South Side – along with taking care of my 15 younger brothers and sisters. I was offered an apprenticeship at the O’Hare Hilton when I was just 15 years old.

I started out washing dishes, and I eventually became the senior sous chef—in two separate stints at the Hilton over a total of 12 years. After the first two years, I resigned and worked on the opening team for the House of Blues and ESPN Zone in Chicago, where I met Scott (Scott McIntosh, co-owner of Ancien). I later went back to Hilton for ten years, until I was recruited to be the executive chef at the Hyatt Regency Lisle.”

How did you start working at Ancien?

“I had worked with Scott on the opening team for the House of Blues years ago, and he happened to run into my brother. He mentioned he was looking for a chef and was trying to get in touch with me. I started working at Ancien in February of 2016, and I’m very happy to be here.”

What’s a typical day at work like for you?

“I work at Ancien five days a week. In the mornings I come in, do my prep work, make soups, make breakfast, place all the food and produce orders, make lunch, and experiment with new menu items when I have a chance. I prepare all the baked goods and handle the catering orders. Our catering menu is great and we are really trying to expand this service in the community.

When the store is busy I also help out with the bikes. I talk to the customers to get a feel for what people in the neighborhood want to see on the menu. That’s how I came up with the black bean burger and the salmon burger.”

What do you like best about being a chef?

“I love bringing people joy with my cooking. Happy food is food that will make you smile just thinking about it. I love cooking all types of food – Italian and Southern are my favorites – but what I really want to do is cook happy food.  Where there’s happy food, there are happy people.”

Who does the cooking in your house?

“My wife and I have six kids between us – three girls and three boys – and I usually do most of the cooking. I make a lot of Southern food for the family, but I’ll also sneak in Italian food, like spaghetti or Eggplant Parmesan, which the kids loved until they figured out it had eggplant in it.”

Where are your favorite local places to go when you’re not working?

“I’m a dad of six and commute to my current home in Hammond, Indiana, so I don’t have a lot of free time, but I do shop at The Silver Room whenever I have a chance.”

What is the best thing about working in Hyde Park?

“I once lived in Hyde Park with my aunt at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue, and there have been a lot of changes in the neighborhood since then. I really enjoy walking in Hyde Park, and feeling the community vibe with all the people that you meet.  It’s great to get to know the people that I’m making happy with my cooking. I wave at a lot of people as they walk past Ancien, and eventually get them to come in, try us out, and become regulars.”

Ancien is open Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Including Winters, it is staffed by seven employees, including three from the South Side.


Ancien Chef Tony Winters
Ancien Chef Tony Winters - photo by Luis Burgos
Ancien's Veggie Burger
Ancien's Veggie Burger - photo by Luis Burgos
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