News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

53rd Street

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.

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: Trushar Patel of Rajun Cajun

As Rajun Cajun restaurant at 1459 E. 53rd Street prepares to celebrate its 23rd anniversary in December 2016, the 53rd Street Blog is pleased to feature Hyde Park resident and businessman Trushar Patel in this latest edition of “Faces of 53rd Street.”

We recently sat down with Patel, 60, (or more accurately, we sat down and he kept jumping up to personally attend to the constant stream of happy diners) to learn more about the history of this Hyde Park institution and his family’s involvement in the evolution of 53rd Street.

What led you to open Rajun Cajun?

“I was a supervisor at McDonald’s for 16 years. I started as a crewmember, and worked my way up to become a supervisor of four stores – all of them located in Chicago, and all owned by the same person. My goal was always to have my own McDonald’s location. I thought my goal was in sight when my son Nishil was unexpectedly born three months premature in 1991. Nishil was born weighing just 1 lb. 9 oz., and spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit. Even though I had insurance, it didn’t cover everything, and my life savings went to pay the medical bills. I had to give up my dream of owning a McDonald’s franchise, and I started looking for local businesses that my brother and I could work at together as a family. A local broker found the Rajun Cajun location in 1993, and we were open for business on December 9th that year. The business was originally called Cajun Joe’s Chicken Palace, a sister franchise of Subway that no longer exists, and we decided to change the name to Rajun Cajun to keep some of the name recognition. The original plan was to pronounce ‘Rajun’ as in ‘done’ and meaning ‘king’ in Hindi, but everyone started pronouncing it to rhyme with ‘Cajun’ and the name has stuck ever since. Rajun Cajun now offers a combination of Indian and soul food and our customers love the variety.”

How many people does the restaurant employ? Are any from Hyde Park or the South Side?

“Rajun Cajun has eight employees, including me, my wife, and son. All of us live in Hyde Park.”

What is the best part of being a local business owner and employer in the community?

“I learned a lot from my time with McDonald’s about quality, cleanliness, and service, and I take a lot of pride in my business. We serve excellent quality food – nothing is ready-made or out of a can. Indian recipes are very labor intensive, and we make everything ourselves with lots of peeling and chopping of fresh ingredients. You can come to the restaurant at any time, and it will always be spotless – everything in the restaurant gets cleaned from top to bottom every day. I personally never take a day off, and am at the restaurant from open to close every day without a vacation. It takes a lot of my time, but it’s a sacrifice you have to be willing to make if you want to be a successful business owner. One of my favorite things to see is the generations of families as my customers. Maybe a customer came to us as a pregnant mom, and now I have her 22-year old kid as a customer. We treat our customers like family, and that’s an extension of the way we treat our employees, too. It’s not the typical employer/employee relationship – there’s a lot of trust involved. Our employees cook their own foods for lunch or dinner in the restaurant, and it’s really a ‘home away from home’ for them. Roberta, the woman who makes our samosas, has been with us for 23 years, and Teresa, the woman who bakes our bread, has been with us 20 years. The first Rajun Cajun employees are still here, and we’ve become a true family.”

There’s a large photo mural of postcards sent to Rajun Cajun by loyal customers displayed on the wall of the renovated restaurant. How did this practice get started?

“When we first opened in 1993, no one knew there was an Indian restaurant in Hyde Park, and we had to rely on word of mouth and recommendations to get new customers. Students started coming in, became our friends, they told other friends, and our business grew. When customers went on vacation or back to their home countries they would send postcards to the restaurant. We got so many and used to throw them out, but my nephew told me we should save them, and we started displaying them on the wall. When the restaurant was renovated last summer, we decided to turn the postcards into a mural for everyone to enjoy.”

What are some of your favorite things about 53rd Street?

“The restaurant has been open since 1993, and my family has lived in Hyde Park since about 1996. During that time there’s been an amazing transformation in Hyde Park, and we love it. Things can never stay the same – especially in a city neighborhood – and the Hyatt Hotel, Harper Theater, and the many shops and restaurants have all contributed to the growth of Hyde Park and our local economy. President Obama likes change, and we do, too.”

During more than 20 years here, what have been your impressions of Hyde Park?

“When I worked at McDonald’s I never went past downtown and had no idea about the south side – it was a new thing for me and it was very exciting to see all the different people from different backgrounds here. For example, my wife is from Tanzania, and Sister Rose, the owner of the shop Kilimanjaro International at 1305 E. 53rd Street, also happens to be from Tanzania. It’s a very small world, made even smaller when you live and work in Hyde Park.”

What do you like to do in Hyde Park when you are not working?

“It sounds funny, but after a long day at the restaurant, my wife, Anila, and I like to go out to dinner. Some of our favorite local places include the Litehouse Whole Food Grill, the Sitdown Café and Sushi Bar, Wingers, Chipotle, Maravillas, and Boston Market.”

What are your plans for the future at Rajun Cajun?

“I won’t be retiring any time soon. We’re very proud of the money we’ve been able to collect for an orphanage with 150 children in Chanod, India – more than $2,000 last year – all due to the generosity of our customers who contribute to our collection box near the cash register. The money goes to provide healthy meals, school supplies, and food for Nandani, the ophanage’s calf.

We’re happy to be on 53rd Street, and plan to continue offering quality dining for our customers for a long time to come.”

Monthly “First Thursday” Event Will Begin in Hyde Park on April 7

On April 7, the Hyde Park Vitality Committee will launch “First Thursday” – a monthly community event designed to add more fun and extended hours to the shopping and dining experience in Hyde Park. Events will be scheduled for the first Thursday of every month from April-December 2016, from 6-9 p.m.

More than 40 businesses from 53rd, 55th, and 57th Streets and the surrounding commercial streets will participate in First Thursdays, with some offering extended hours and parking vouchers as well as discounts, raffles, refreshments, special menu items, and more. The city’s tourism association, Choose Chicago, will also be involved in the event, and will station local residents as “Insta-Greeters” for impromptu guided tours of Hyde Park at Ancien Cycles & Café, 1558 E. 53rd Street, beginning in May and running through December.

The Hyde Park Vitality Committee says the goal is for First Thursday to become an anticipated night out for Hyde Parkers as well as those who might be new to Hyde Park. The committee is a partnership that includes Downtown Hyde Park, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, the Nichols Park Advisory Council, the South East Chicago Commission (SECC), and the University of Chicago.

“Hyde Park is a special place, with a variety of shops and restaurants to cater to many tastes,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “New businesses are continuously opening, and First Thursday will provide an occasion for people to visit their favorite businesses, learn about new ones, and have a fun night out with their family and friends.”

Some of the more creative offers already planned for First Thursday include free Pumpkin Spiced Lattes for dogs at Sprocket & Stone (1013 E. 53rd Street), a fun run and gong meditation session at New Balance and Chaturanga Holistic Fitness (5500 S. Lake Park Avenue), free “surprise” books at 57th Street Books (1301 E. 57th Street), and much more.

Participating businesses to date include A10 Hyde Park, Akira, Ancien Cycles & Café, Bergstein’s NY Deli, Café 53, Chant, Chaturanga Holistic Fitness, Chipotle, Comfort Me, Elston Ace Hardware, Einstein Bros. Bagels, 57th Street Books, First Aid Comics, H&R Block, Hyde Park Produce, Ja’ Grill, Kilwins, LA Fitness, Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, Leona’s, Litehouse Whole Food Grill, Medici on 57th, Mikkey’s Retro Grill, Modern Cooperative, Native Foods, New Balance, NoteworthyNotes, PACKED: dumplings reimagined, Pearle Vision, Pockets Hyde Park & Kingoberry Frozen Yogurt, Porkchop, Powell's Books, Rajun Cajun, The Revival, The Silver Room, Sir & Madame, The Sit Down Café & Sushi Bar, Sprocket & Stone Pet Boutique, Toys Etcetera, Wesley’s Shoe Corral, Yusho, and ZBerry Frozen Yogurt, with more being added daily.

Hyde Park business owners who would like to participate in First Thursday can contact Amy Williams at acwilliams@uchicago.edu.

Visit the First Thursday website and Facebook page.

 

Faces of 53rd Street: Eric Williams

When you meet Eric Williams, the dynamic, creative owner of The Silver Room at 1506 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park, you might not realize he was originally a finance major and a stockbroker – but that’s exactly how the career of one of Chicago’s most recognized retail entrepreneurs began.

As a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the early 1990s, Williams started selling t-shirts and sunglasses on the street to put himself through school.

A brief stint as a stockbroker turned him off the corporate world, and he started selling his products full-time around town, at street festivals, and in the basement of a Wicker Park boutique, Lit-X. A chance meeting with two New York vendors at Jazz Fest in New Orleans got him started selling silver jewelry, and with no comparable stores in the area, he opened The Silver Room – a hybrid jewelry, art, and apparel shop, as well as art gallery and event space – in 1997 in Wicker Park.

The ever-evolving nature of the store – both in the original Wicker Park location and now in Hyde Park – keeps Williams interested and engaged. He has honed his skills in creating a true neighborhood gathering place, where local musicians play and people want to take classes and spend time – one of the hallmarks of The Silver Room, or “TSR” as fans call it.

We visited Williams in his store to learn more about his continuing involvement in the Hyde Park area:

Q: What led you to move the store to Hyde Park from Wicker Park in 2015?

Williams: My lease was ending, and I was reevaluating whether or not I wanted to commit to another 10 years in Wicker Park. I felt like the neighborhood was changing, and it actually seemed to be losing some of the creativity and excitement that I had been so drawn to years ago. Hyde Park has actually turned out to be a better “fit” for The Silver Room. I get people thanking me for being here, and that is a great feeling. Also, Hyde Park seems to have a less transitory nature than Wicker Park. Many of my customers were born in the Hyde Park area and they are still here today. They bring their families and friends, and The Silver Room has become an extension of their living rooms.

Q: Originally a “pop-up” retail location, you recently signed a five-year lease for The Silver Room on 53rd Street – what factors guided your decision to remain in the Hyde Park community on a more permanent basis?

Williams: I wanted to stay in Hyde Park because I was welcomed by the community and everyone was so happy and excited for me to be here – that’s number one. Our employees are happy, we’re busier here, and it just makes sense from a business perspective. There’s a new energy for me here – something that I really needed.  I like the level of collaboration here with the University, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the South East Chicago Commission, and other groups. I see Hyde Park continuing to grow and grow in the next few years, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Q: How many people does The Silver Room employ? Are any of the employees from Hyde Park or the South Side?

Williams: Right now we have six employees, and four of them are from the South Side. Two of them live in Hyde Park, and the other two live in Bronzeville and South Shore. Two of them worked with me at the Wicker Park location and are happy to have a shorter commute.

Q: What is your favorite thing about 53rd Street?

Williams: The authentic style of my customers in Hyde Park is so inspiring.  I also love the diversity. There's a wide range of ages here that I didn’t see in Wicker Park. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and they really seem to appreciate what the store adds to the community. 

Q: The Silver Room hosts French lessons, salsa dance classes, singles events, art shows, film screenings, spoken word nights, and more. How do you develop the programming for the community gathering aspect of the store?

Williams: I try to plan at least two of my own events each month -– usually an art opening and a spoken word event. Our upcoming art exhibit will launch during Black History Month and feature works by local artists inspired by the legacy of Muhammad Ali.

Many of the other events are dictated by the community. Probably 80 percent is community-driven, in response to what people in the area want to see. For example, right now we are collecting water for Flint, Michigan. We’ve already collected 50 cases of water – and this is all because of an idea from someone in the community. People see The Silver Room as a hub in the neighborhood, and we try to answer everyone’s needs as best as we can.

Q: Your collaboration with the University of Chicago on last year’s successful Harper Court Summer Music Series will be continuing this summer with four new events. What can the neighborhood expect in terms of performers, music styles, etc.?

Williams: Last year’s events included steppers, jazz, and Latin music, and the community really responded well to that mix. This year we’ll do more of the same, and probably add some blues.

Q: What are your favorite hangouts in Hyde Park? Where might people see you in the neighborhood?

Williams: When I’m not at The Silver Room, some of my favorite places are Rajun Cajun, The Promontory, and 57th Street Books.

Q: We’ve heard you even hosted a wedding at The Silver Room last year – how did that come about?

Williams: A long-time customer from the Wicker Park location got his wedding rings in Hyde Park and he really loves the concept of the store. He said he wanted to get married here, so we made it happen. It brought a tear to my eye that he would have one of the most important moments of his life at The Silver Room. It’s a retail store that’s more than just a retail store, and the wedding was one of the highlights of the year for me.

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"Faces of 53rd Street" is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers in the 53rd Street retail corridor in Hyde Park. To suggest someone for a future profile, send their name and place of business or contact details to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

Faces of 53rd Street: Matthias Merges

By Calmetta Coleman and Lilian Huang

After opening two new restaurants in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Matthias Merges faced a common restaurant industry challenge: securing and keeping high-quality employees.

The award-winning chef could have recruited workers from anywhere in the city for his French-Italian eatery A10 and Japanese-inspired Yusho, including from the original Yusho in the Avondale neighborhood. Instead, he instituted a policy that 70 percent of A10 and Yusho employees must live within walking distance of their workplace or have easy access by bus. While keeping a restaurant employee for 18 months is considered good in the industry, both A10 and Yusho, which opened in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have staff who have been with them since the beginning. Together, the restaurants employ 60 people.

“We could have brought employees from the North Side, but that doesn’t do any good for us or the community,” says Merges, who lives on the North Side. “We’re invested in the community.”

Indeed, while still running three other popular restaurants elsewhere in Chicago and Las Vegas, Merges spends about one-third of his time in Hyde Park and sits on the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. Locals might spot him, sporting his signature beard, at museums and other cultural venues in the neighborhood—or even at other restaurants on 53rd Street.

A few months ago, Merges recalls, a customer came into A10, looked over the menu, and made it known that he did not want any of the dishes listed. What he really wanted, he said, was fried fish. Wired to please his customers, Merges headed across the street to Indian restaurant Rajun Cajun and borrowed a raw red snapper. He fried it up and served it with roasted potatoes and tartar sauce. After the meal, the customer told Merges, “That’s the best piece of fish I’ve ever had.”

One of Merges’ favorite things about 53rd Street is the community of restaurants and how they interact with and support one another. There is, naturally, a good deal of overlap between customers of A10, at 1462 E. 53rd Street, and Yusho, at 1301 E. 53rd, with some patrons frequently dining at both in the same day. The restaurants also welcome referrals from the likes of Rajun Cajun and Pizza Capri and return the favor by recommending neighboring restaurants for their customers who decide to go elsewhere. “The more community you create, the more successful everyone is going to be,” Merges says.

Merges’ definition of success goes beyond the profitability of his restaurants. He also has a mission of serving the community through his work. He partners with the Cook County Jail’s nonviolent felon release program to operate a vegetable garden where inmates cultivate and tend produce for Chicago restaurants. Merges and his employees help the inmates to develop these valuable skills and provide them with information on what it is like working in a restaurant. A number of inmates from the program have gone on to work at Merges’ restaurants. Merges describes his approach to this work in simple terms, “You search for people who never had the opportunity to do good, and give them an opportunity, and they do good.”

The 49-year-old is also one of the founders of Pilot Light, a nonprofit that partners with Chicago schools to educate children about food and nutrition and equip them to make healthy lifestyle choices. Its free curriculum is currently implemented in six schools, including Ray Elementary in Hyde Park and Anna R. Langford Community Academy in Englewood.

Even with five restaurants and nonprofit work on his plate, Merges still makes time for hobbies. He enjoys activities like camping, running, climbing and, of course, spending time with his family. His wife, a Chicago architect, had a hand in designing both of his Hyde Park restaurants, and at home, he teaches his three daughters how to cook. Merges also does photography, including promotional photography for his restaurants.

He is excited about the potential for his 53rd Street restaurants and for the neighborhood in general. “There has been an emergence of 53rd Street that has been great, but has not hit its peak,” he says.

At A10 and Yusho, he continually looks for ways to keep the offerings fresh. Both restaurants frequently offer unique menus for holidays and other special occasions, such as A10’s Sunday brunch menu and its “Tour the Garden” dinner series this past summer, which showcased a different item of produce from the Hyde Park farmer’s market every Wednesday. He also recently hired a new chef for A10.

“Creating a culture is very important for us, and it takes time to do that,” he notes. “We’ve made great strides, but I can’t wait to see the five-year mark!”

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Faces of 53rd Street is a twice-monthly series that profiles business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy of Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail corridor. If you would like to recommend a familiar face on 53rd Street for a profile, write to us at 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

Faces of 53rd Street: Aldo Rojas and Steven Rife

By Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

If you walk into Chant restaurant at any time of day, you will most likely witness scenes of hugging and kissing and customers being served without looking at the menu. That’s because Chant is more than a restaurant. For regular customers, it’s an extension of their home. “We have a strong relationship with our customers. They are like family,” explains general manager Aldo Rojas.

It’s this personal connection, as well as the carefully prepared Asian fusion cuisine, that has helped Chant become a popular and longstanding destination on 53rd Street. “We’re here to do business and create long-lasting relationships,” says executive chef Steven Rife, who is known to many Chant patrons as simply Chef Steven.

Chant, at 1509 E. 53rd Street, offers intriguing blends of influences, serving up dishes like braised short rib poutine and duck tacos for a global fusion of flavors. But aside from the artful creations, the restaurant is noted for fresh, mostly organic ingredients.

“So many restaurants think that it’s expensive to do wholesome, fresh ingredients but it’s not,” says Rife. “The most important thing in a restaurant is the customer’s enjoyment, and the food is a big part of that.”

The other part is ambiance and customer service, which Chant also supplies with a bright, Asian-themed decor and an ingratiating staff.  The restaurant attracts new customers from all over the city but regulars make up the core of its clientele. “We love Hyde Park and we love our customers,” says Rojas. “We have people who, if they don’t come every day, they come every other day.”

Rojas arrived at Chant in 2011 and Rife in 2013. Both men are 37 years old and started their restaurant careers at 15, and both recognized the importance of catering to customers’ needs. Rojas started at La Pasadita, a popular Wicker Park restaurant and went on to work at Phil Stefani’s Signature restaurants and Harborside International Golf Center, managing banquets and catering. Rife worked as executive sous chef at the Museum of Contemporary Art under Wolfgang Puck, and later as Executive Chef at Red Canary and Ristorante Al Teatro.

While Rojas lives in Portage Park and Rife lives in the South Loop, both are regular fixtures in Hyde Park. Rojas enjoys going to the Promontory and checking out new restaurants at Harper Court with his girlfriend. During the summer, Rife loves to relax at the close of his day in the nature preserve at the end of 53rd Street, and he also frequents the music fests in Nichols Park.

Both Rojas and Rife believe that their focus on connecting with residents and offering a welcoming spot for entertainment, years before there were other options, have helped spur Hyde Park’s revitalization.

“We really started the nightlife scene on 53rd,” Rojas said, referencing the live bands that the restaurant has hosted every weekend since 2011. “We don’t have a cover and customers don’t have to drive all the way downtown. We wanted to keep our customers in Hyde Park and not risk drinking and driving.” 

Featuring live jazz, blues and Latin jazz bands as well as a house music DJ every other Saturday (check the music schedule at www.chantchicago.com), Chant draws a packed house on weekends. “Sometimes our waitlist is up to an hour on Fridays and we’ll have 500 people in here on busy nights,” Rojas says.

As pioneers of the renewed energy on 53rd, Rojas and Rife are excited to see the expansion of the entire community. “When I started, we were the main local place,” recalls Rife. “When other places started popping up, people worried about what would happen to Chant.  Well, what happened was we increased our business as more people are coming to Hyde Park. We’re enjoying the growth and we’re thankful for our customers that are growing and expanding with us.”

Families enjoy ice carving demonstrations for the second week of Hyde Park Holiday Nights

The windy weather at Harper Court last Thursday night on Dec. 10 did not deter Al Martinez, the ice artist from Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures in Forest Park, from crafting an impressive ice carving of a penguin standing on a block of ice.

Families and people walking down 53rd Street got a chance to see the artist at work between 4-5 p.m. as he started with a rectangular block of ice before sculpting it with different power tools into a detailed, three-dimensional penguin. As he cut away sections of ice, he delighted several children by etching miniature penguin designs into slabs of ice, which he gave away to a boy and a girl. People also enjoyed the pre-carved holiday tree sculpture lit from within with colored lights near the entrance to the Harper Court office building, as well as a holiday snow globe sculpture with a winter scene and snowflakes frozen inside near Native Foods.

The fun then moved on to The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center from 6-7 p.m., where the ice artist carved a gingerbread cookie on top of a house; and displayed a pre-carved Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer sculpture; as well as a snowman.

The activities were part of Hyde Park Holiday Nights, the three-week holiday event on consecutive Thursdays – 12/3, 12/10, and 12/17. The event kicked off with holiday caroling on Dec. 3, and will end with characters inspired by the movie, “Frozen,” making appearances at eight local Hyde Park shops on Dec. 17 from 5-7 p.m.

For the full event schedule, visit the event website.

Einstein Bros. Bagels launches at Harper Court, with grand opening on Thursday, December 10

The Harper Court location of Einstein Bros. Bagels, staffed with over 50 people from the local community, opened on Monday, November 23, to a very enthusiastic reception from Hyde Park residents, workers, students, and visitors.

Situated at 5230 S. Harper Court, behind the Hyatt Place Hotel in the Harper Court mixed-use development, Einstein Bros. Bagels is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The restaurant offers a full menu of bagels, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, sweets, and beverages, as well as catering options.

The Harper Court Einstein’s location celebrates its grand opening on Thursday, December 10, from 4-8 p.m. Guests receive a 10% discount on purchases during this time and are eligible for raffle prizes including free coffee and bagels for a year. The Harper Court private street area will also feature an ice carving demonstration from 4-6 p.m. as part of Hyde Park Holiday Nights, the three-week holiday celebration on December 3, 10, and 17. To show its support for the local community, Einstein Bros. Bagels will be hosting a “Hot Chocolate Welcome Station” at each of the three events, with free hot chocolate and sweets while supplies last.

Gary M. Pahl, brand and operations manager for Robinson Hill USA, the owner/operator of the Harper Court Einstein Bros. Bagels location, stated, “We could not be happier with the welcome we have received from Hyde Park. We’re very proud of this new restaurant and the operations team we have selected, and are confident that once people come in they’ll love the friendliness of our staff, food options, double-sided fireplace, and seating area with plenty of outlets and Wi-Fi access.”

“The opening of Einstein Bros. Bagels is an important milestone for Harper Court as well as the entire 53rd Street area,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. This location has strong visibility and will be a welcome asset for so many people – whether workers at Harper Court, guests at Hyatt Place, students, families, and more.”

Faces of 53rd Street: Kris Braaten

Located at 1512 E. 53rd Street, Bonne Santé Health Foods has a history on 53rd Street that goes back more than 40 years. Owner Kristofer Braaten is the second generation of this family-owned business.

Braaten, 51, spent a period of his childhood in Europe, where his father, who was a professor at Hyde Park’s Lutheran School of Theology for more than 30 years, worked on his theological studies. When the Braatens returned to Hyde Park in 1969, his mother, LaVonne, was unable to find the healthful, chemical-free foods she had become accustomed to in England. In 1971, she opened Hyde Park Health Foods at 1360 E. 53rd Street. The store closed when LaVonne expanded to four locations in Chicago’s south suburbs, but she missed the Hyde Park community and reopened here in 1984 as Bonne Santé Health Foods at 1457 E. 53rd Street.

After taking over the family business in 1992, Braaten moved the store to its current location at 1512 E. 53rd Street in 1999. Today, Bonne Santé (French for “good health”) is a neighborhood gem, with 16 local staff members who are well educated in the store’s extensive stock of supplements and herbs, alternative groceries, freshly prepared foods, teas, energy bars, homeopathic medicines, beauty products, cleaning supplies, and an extensive juice bar.

We asked Braaten about his family’s multi-decade legacy on 53rd Street:

What is it like to be part of a family business?

Being able to continue what my mother built years ago brings an enormous sense of pride and responsibility for the valued customers who have looked to Bonne Santé as a true source for healing and alternative choices for their health.

Who are your customers?

Our customers come from every age group and include many people from Hyde Park, the North Side, South Side, and south suburbs.

How do you promote your business?

All of our business promotion is on a very local level, mainly through churches, not-for-profit groups, and University of Chicago activities. I believe that when you put out an honest and good product, customer word of mouth is the best source of advertising.  

What area of your business is experiencing the most growth?

We have been preparing fresh foods from our kitchen for the past two years now, making hot, fresh, healthy lunch foods for all the workers in the neighborhood. Our lunch service has become so popular that we have had to hire extra people to keep up with the demand.

What do you enjoy most about 53rd Street?

I grew up a few blocks from the store, and since then I have appreciated the eclectic and electric environment this diverse neighborhood brings.  There are few places in the world where you will find such an interesting mix of people and cultures. I have many conversations with customers and have enjoyed learning from them over the years.  I do hope that they have learned things from my wonderful staff and me over the years as well.

What is your favorite part about being a Hyde Park business owner?

Owning a business that promotes good health is incredibly rewarding.  To see the people of Hyde Park and surrounding areas come in and trust what we have to say and give them choices that can be difficult to come by brings a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. I count my blessings each day to have been given the chance to be part of an ever-changing and interesting industry on 53rd Street. I live in Bucktown now, but I’m always running errands around Hyde Park, and you can often find me at the Midway Plaisance ice rink with my daughter in the winter, or the UChicago tennis courts in the summer.

Faces of 53rd Street: Anthony Beach

by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

Anthony Beach beams with pride as he strolls around the lobby of Hyatt Place-South/University Medical Center. It's not just because he is general manager of a property that regularly boasts high ratings and high occupancy for its 131 rooms. It's not just because the hotel has helped draw more people to the 53rd Street corridor, boosting business for the shops and restaurants surrounding Harper Court. The underlying cause for Anthony's pride is that, as a Hyde Park High School graduate who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood, he takes particular pleasure in knowing that his work contributes to the economy in his local community.

Beach started in his position before the hotel opened in 2013 and played an integral part in its opening operations, including hiring employees, obtaining licenses, and implementing Hyatt processes and training and development. The hotel has 39 full- and part-time employees, and 69 percent of them are from nearby South Side neighborhoods.

“I was the first employee. I take pride in seeing the outcome of what we are and how it began,” Beach says of his role as general manager of Hyatt Place-South.

Noted for a casually chic ambience and a lobby filled with local art, Hyatt Place-South has grown over the past two years into a cornerstone of the neighborhood, attracting travelers and locals alike. But when Anthony was growing up in Englewood, his dreams had nothing to do with hotels. “I wanted to be a cop. I wanted to be in law enforcement,” recalls the 40-year-old Beach, who has lived on the South Side his whole life.

Inspired to make a difference in the struggling community around him, he signed up for the U.S. Army Reserve and worked in chemical warfare. Taking advantage of the GI bill, he enrolled at South Suburban College with an eye towards joining the police force. He graduated from South Suburban College with an associate’s degree, but by the time he finished his bachelor’s degree at the University of Phoenix, he had also gained hotel experience at the Marriott in Oak Brook, Ill., and at the Inn of Chicago. When he landed at the legendary Palmer House hotel, he discovered that his talents might not lie in law enforcement.

“I was promoted quickly, from front desk manager to supervisor. I was progressing so quickly that I realized that I was making more and doing more than I would as a police officer,” he recalls of his 10-year career there.

Not that he gave up on helping his community. “We've partnered with Kenwood Academy High School for internships. Chicago Vocational High School sent students here to shadow us. We sponsor events. We give certificates for raffles,” Beach notes. “We try to support what we can. Our eyes are open to help.”

Indeed, whether it’s neighborhood regulars sipping coffee at the lobby cafe, or baby showers and book club meetings being held in the conference spaces, the Hyatt Place-South has become a welcoming spot for local residents. And Anthony Beach wouldn't have it any other way.

Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” television program to film at 53rd Street’s LiteHouse Whole Food Grill restaurant this Sunday

You can imagine LiteHouse Whole Food Grill owner Erik “Rico” Nance’s surprise when CNN called early this week to get his approval to visit the restaurant this Sunday, October 11, to film a “Parts Unknown” television segment with Anthony Bourdain, the respected chef, best-selling author, and multiple Emmy-winning television personality.

Located at 1373 E. 53rd Street, the LiteHouse will be featured on an upcoming Chicago episode at the suggestion of Lupe Fiasco, the well-known Chicago Grammy-nominated rap artist, record producer, and entrepreneur, who will introduce Bourdain to the restaurant’s menu of healthy salads, wraps, bowls, burritos, tacos, nachos, pizzas, and more.

CNN had sent producers to the restaurant at the end of September to look at the space, but Nance was not there at the time, so their subsequent call came as a very exciting surprise to him.

Fiasco is a long-time customer of the LiteHouse, and in addition to being a fan of their healthfully prepared food, he values the restaurant’s community-minded mission in feeding 20,000 homeless and less fortunate people since the business opened in Hyde Park nearly three years ago. Nance opened the restaurant “…with the hope of bringing healthy fast food to his community in the most wholesome way,” according to his website. He makes it a practice to hire the homeless as well as recovering drug addicts and says these individuals have been some of his best employees.

Nance “treats everyone as if they were the President,” and serves about 20-30 free meals a day to the hungry and homeless, who order from their regular menu with the rest of the customers. Customers who want to support this mission have the option to “go premium” and add $2.50 to their bill to defray the cost of the free meals.

A resident of the South Loop, Nance spent all his summers in Hyde Park with his aunt and has great affection for the area. The restaurant is closed on Saturday during the day for religious observances, and during that time he opens the space for community events including motivational speakers, spiritual yoga, a “Dance Against Violence” program, as well as family events such as weddings and baby showers. The restaurant reopens at 7 p.m., staying open until midnight.

CNN will be at the restaurant from about 9:30 a.m. until approximately 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. The LiteHouse will be open for regular business and customers and fans are welcome to come in and watch the filming as space permits. For those who want to stay longer, Nance is holding about 15 seats that can be reserved by contacting the restaurant through its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

 

 

 

 

Rajun Cajun reopens on September 17 after interior design refresh

Rajun Cajun, at 1459 E. 53rd Street, will reopen on Thursday, September 17th after a temporary closing for an interior design refresh.

Owned by Hyde Park resident Trushar Patel, Rajun Cajun has been open for business since 1993, and has been featured in Chicago magazine, the Chicago Reader, and “Chicago’s Best Food Challenges” on WGN-TV, among others. After 20+ years, Patel thought it was a good time for an interior spruce up, coinciding with the completion of the renovation of the Doerr Building, of which he is a tenant.

Rajun Cajun closed on July 3, and Patel kept his customers up-to-date on the restaurant’s Facebook page with photos of his progress during the 11 weeks of the renovation project.

Patrons will find new tables and seating, lighting, tile-work, and wood paneling, as well as a custom-designed wall mural. Rajun Cajun is so well-loved by its customers that they often send Patel postcards from all over the world, describing the menu items they miss the most, and these postcards have been incorporated into the wall mural. If you’ve sent Patel a postcard in the past few years, you might just find it as part of the design.

“I’m very happy to be reopening,” said Patel. “ I have missed all my customers, and I think they will say that the wait was worth it once they come back to see the restaurant.”

“Rajun Cajun has been offering its many customers an authentic taste of India as well as the American South for over 20 years,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “The new interior design is a fresh look for one of Hyde Park’s most favorite restaurants."

An official ribbon cutting ceremony is planned in the coming weeks.

 

Season finale of Harper Court Wednesday night Summer Music Series features Jose “Papo” Santiago with Bossa Tres on September 30

The University of Chicago, in collaboration with Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, is hosting the season finale of the open-air summer music series in the courtyard area at Harper Court at 5235 S. Harper Court just off 53rd Street.

The upcoming event is a Salsa/Brazilian Music Night on September 30, from 6-9 p.m. with Jose “Papo” Santiago and Bossa Tres. Salsa dance instruction led by Roger Noel will take place from 6-6:30 p.m., with Bossa Tres playing from 6:30-7:30 p.m., DJ Kimani Rashaad spinning from 7:30-8 p.m., and Santiago playing from 8-9 p.m.

Santiago, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, studied music at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico before being recruited by bandleader Joe Rodriguez to play baritone saxophone with him in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and New York. Santiago moved to Chicago in the late 1980s, where even as a newcomer, he was soon recognized by the most influential local musicians in the city. He is an expert musician in Afro-Caribbean, jazz, and experimental combinations of forms. In addition to mastering the saxophone, Santiago is an accomplished flutist, vocalist, composer, and bandleader. Santiago released his CD, “Infraverde” in 2012, and the song, “Viva Chicago” became the official theme song of The Latin Street Salsa Congreso 2012.

The Bossa Tres Quintet, who will be performing in the upcoming Hyde Park Jazz Festival, includes Marcos Oliveira, Dill Costa, Bruno Alcalde, Jack Zara, and Luis Ewerling. They bring an authentic taste of Brazil to their live performances in and around Chicago and pride themselves on their heritage and ability to play songs that demonstrate the diversity and intensity of Brazilian music.

The series began with a Steppers Night on July 29 and a Jazz Night on August 26. Each event has had approximately 700 people in attendance, some even bringing candlelit picnics and outdoor furniture, similar to concertgoers at Ravinia.

“The response to the Harper Court Summer Music Series events has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room. “People in the community have really been enjoying the setting in Harper Court, and we’ve seen that the venue is the perfect place to celebrate a summer night with great music, friends, and fun.”

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, as well as on the street.

Harper Court is a mixed-use retail development with businesses including ULTA Beauty, VILLA, AT&T, Chipotle, Nancy Krause Floral Design and Garden Antiques, Red Mango, Native Foods, Porkchop, Ja’ Grill, the Hyatt Place Hotel, and LA Fitness, with Sir & Madame and Einstein Bros. Bagels opening in the near future.

For more information about the series, please go to http://HCmusic.splashthat.com/.

Furniture and home accessories store Modern Cooperative set to open in Hyde Park this fall

Hyde Park design enthusiasts will have reason to celebrate when Tiffany Paige and Mike Biersma open the second location of their much-loved furniture and home accessories store, Modern Cooperative, in Hyde Park in late October 2015. They “…mix the old and new, the high and low, the fun and the serious” – a promising combination for shoppers looking to decorate a dorm room, apartment, or house.

The store tagline, “Where vintage modern meets handmade,” is an apt description of Paige and Biersma’s philosophy for the store, which comes from their love of the mid-century modern design aesthetic as well as their commitment to local and handmade design.

The Hyde Park location will feature the same hand-picked combination of mid-century modern and vintage Danish furniture, modern Scandinavian-inspired home décor accessories, and art pieces from more than 75 local artists that has made their Pilsen store an award-winning shopping destination, mentioned in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, The Boston Globe, Chicago magazine, Chicagoist, Chicago Social, and more.

The store will be located at 1500 E. 53rd Street, previously occupied by the women’s clothing boutique, Anastasia. Modern Cooperative will also include space currently occupied by Lively Athletics at 5241 S. Harper Avenue.  After opening in April 2015, Lively Athletics will now be moving across the street to 1457 E. 53rd Street, next door to the recently renovated Rajun Cajun restaurant space, a Hyde Park landmark.

Paige’s background includes photography and metal smith work at the Savannah College of Art and Design, a stint as a flight attendant, a degree in visual communications at the Illinois Institute of Art, and brand management at United Airlines, working closely with clothing designer Cynthia Rowley on a proposed uniform project – all leading to the formation of the Modern Cooperative store concept.

The original Modern Cooperative location at Thalia Hall in Pilsen has been charming locals as well as destination shoppers since its opening in 2013. The store expanded to become the one of city’s largest vintage modern boutique, and has been recognized as “Best New Home Shop” by Time Out Chicago in 2012, a winner of the Time Out Chicago “Love Chicago Awards” (South Side) in 2014, and “Best of Chicago” 2014 in Chicago magazine.

“Having lived in Pilsen for over 10 years, we have so much love for the South Side of Chicago, so opening our second location in Hyde Park simply made sense to us,” said Paige. “We’ve always loved Hyde Park for its rich history and wonderful architecture, and have a lot of customers there already. We love that the 53rd Street shopping district is energetic, culturally diverse, and comprised of so many unique and successful small businesses – and we are very honored to be part of it.“

“Home furnishings is a retail category frequently requested by the community, and Modern Cooperative is a locally-owned, independent leader in the space,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “The opening of Modern Cooperative will be a great resource for students, employees, local residents, and visitors – anyone looking for interesting, well-designed home décor and accessories with a story to tell – and we’re very happy to welcome them here."

And, if we’re lucky, their two adorable dogs, Joplin and Queso, will be joining them at the store.