News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Hyde Park Farmers Market free community booth slots filling up

Since the Hyde Park Farmers Market opened on June 2, local community groups are showing great interest in one of its newest amenities—a free community booth for local businesses and non-profit organizations.

Seven organizations and businesses, including the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, Doulas of Chicago, Perfect Peace Massage Therapy, iMentor, the Hyde Park School of Dance, the Chicago Free School, and the Indie City Writers, have all signed up for the weekly Thursday slots, which are available now through October 27, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The booth may be used for community outreach, demonstrations, and other  activities, or select fundraising efforts such as bake sales for non-profit groups. The booth allows community groups to reach the farmers market audience without the typical long-term commitment and cost. In addition to the booth, the farmers market also supplies a table and two chairs.

YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is scheduled for the booth on June 16, and Jill O’Donovan, Director of Strategic Initiatives, commented, “We look forward to providing information on our current services including STEM programming for youth, our Economic Empowerment Institute, a number of family and childcare support services as well as our sexual violence and support services.  We are hopeful that our presence at the booth will not only help to increase awareness of our services but also encourage people to follow us on social media to keep up with our news and events. “

The Chicago Free School is scheduled to have representatives at the booth on July 28.  "We are excited to reach out to new families and share more about our school's vision for education and how we seek to empower children," said Lauren Beitler, the school’s founder and one of its teachers.

K.B. Jensen, co-organizer and Founder of Indie City Writers, scheduled for the booth on August 18 added, "The ability to use this space gives us a chance to get the word out about our community of writers, raise funds through book sales, and have fun writing communal poetry with the market-goers. The Hyde Park Farmers' Market is always a vibrant place that draws people together. It's a wonderful opportunity to recruit new members and tell people about our live-lit events and workshops.”

“We are happy to provide additional exposure for community organizations and local businesses to reach the farmers market audience through our new community booth feature,” said Eric Reaves, Program Manager for the South East Chicago Commission, responsible for organizing the market. “It gives these groups the chance to directly connect with area residents and shoppers and share information about important services and programs.”

Interested groups can apply for a date slot by contacting Amy Williams at acwilliams@uchicago.edu.

For more information about the Hyde Park Farmers Market, visit the Downtown Hyde Park website, and follow the group on Facebook.

Faces of 53rd Street: Erik “Rico” Nance

When you meet Erik Nance, he might just give you a hug instead of a handshake. The owner of Hyde Park’s LiteHouse Whole Food Grill at 1373 E. 53rd Street and Mikkey’s Retro Grill at 5319 S. Hyde Park Boulevard has a warmth and generosity of spirit that are immediately evident when you talk to him. It is also evident in his businesses.

LiteHouse is known for its healthy tacos, pizzas, wraps, and burritos made to order with fresh ingredients, but it is also noteworthy for providing about 20-30 free meals a day to the less fortunate, who order from the regular menu with the rest of the customers. Customers who want to support the LiteHouse mission have the option to “go premium,” and add $2.50 to their bill to pay for others’ free meals. Nance also serves as a mentor to his employees, some of whom were formerly homeless or struggled with addiction issues.

A resident of the South Loop, husband, and father of four children ages 5-12, Nance spent his summers in Hyde Park with his aunt and grew up in the Morgan Park neighborhood. The Apostolic Church of God on Dorchester Avenue named him “Dad of the Year” in 2015.

The 53rd Street Blog recently sat down with Nance to learn what led him to open his two local restaurants and strive to be such a positive force in the neighborhood.

What led you to open LiteHouse Whole Food Grill?

“I was on the lakefront one day near La Rabida in Jackson Park, and I was walking and praying when the vision for the LiteHouse came to me, though I didn’t know where it would be or when it might happen. Later I was at Zberry on 53rd Street when I looked across the street and saw a vacancy sign on the storefront. I thought it would be the perfect location. I saw the space and that was it. I didn’t have any experience in the restaurant industry, but the owner of the building said he would rent it to me anyway. That was three years ago, and in that time we’ve brought fresh, healthy, fast food to the community, while also serving 20,000 meals to the homeless and less fortunate.”

How did the community service aspect of the LiteHouse begin?

“One of our young employees was taking the trash out when he saw a homeless man going through the restaurant’s garbage containers. The man asked our employee if he could have permission to take some food from the trash, and our employee – he was only 18 years old, I think – came in to ask me if he could pay for the man’s meal with his own money. I told him to invite the man inside for a real meal for free. Initially he didn’t want to come in and felt like he wasn’t good enough, but I came out and told him, ‘You’re a human being – we love you – you’re welcome here.’ He had a healthy meal and told us, ‘I feel like a human again.’ That was so moving to me, and I told him to tell his friends that we would provide fresh, healthy, all-natural food for free.  That’s how our mission began. Now I encourage other restaurant owners I know to do the same.”

What led you to open Mikkey’s Retro Grill?

“I try to eat healthy as much as possible, but I started thinking about a place where you could have a ‘cheat day’ with all natural burgers, fries, and wings. I was looking at used restaurant equipment at the now-closed South Side Shrimp location, and the owner, Peter Cassel from Mac Properties, asked if I might want to rent it. I decided to open the restaurant with my older brother, Mikkel, who we always called Mikkey, and named the restaurant after him. Since the space had already been a restaurant it was easy to open it in just a few months. I didn’t have any expectations, but we sold 13,000 meals in the first month alone. We didn’t have enough employees in the beginning to keep up with the demand, but we’re staffed up now and people have been loving the restaurant and the food.”

How many people do the two restaurants employ? Are any from Hyde Park or the South Side?

“I employ about 40 people total – 18 at the LiteHouse and 22 at Mikkey’s, and all are from Hyde Park or the South Side. A lot of my employees are at-risk youth, and for some of them, I’m the first boss they ever had. Everyone deserves a chance, but I also hold them accountable – you’ve got to be on time and do your job well or you can’t stay on.”

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

“I recognize that some of my employees have grown up without a father figure, and I can be really strict with them – I once had a person come to an interview 20 minutes late and I would not give him the job. I told him to come back when he was ready to be responsible, because as a business owner, I can’t have people coming to work whenever they want – other people are counting on them. I want my employees to learn the ‘don’t be late’ model at a young age, to make them successful as they get older. I have a 23-year old employee who is going to be promoted soon to manager of the LiteHouse, and I am really proud of him. He used to be homeless and was stealing food to provide for his younger brother. They both came into the LiteHouse for a meal, and when I saw him in line, there was just something about him, and I asked him if he needed a job. I hired him on the spot, and this changed his path. I know for a fact that since he is now working, he has stopped stealing.”

What is your favorite thing about 53rd Street?

“To me, 53rd Street equals life. It’s a microcosm of the world, with poor, middle class, and wealthy people – white and black together on the street – all with the same chance to influence the world. I love the feeling on the street – people still say ‘hello,’ and there’s no other block like this in the world. People like Louis Farrakhan, Barack Obama, Toni Preckwinkle, and Jesse Jackson have all walked on 53rd Street, and that is an inspiration.”

What are your thoughts about Hyde Park?

“Hyde Park tells two different tales, and there are two sides to living here. You’ve got the political aspect; and the doctors, lawyers, and professors; every aspect of religion from the Nation of Islam to Hinduism; but you’ve also got at-risk kids – some of them poor and abused, with parents on drugs and without food in the house. Some of these kids have no place to go – no jobs, no training, and they don’t know what to do to get into college. They are literally lost. I have a very smart young woman working at Mikkey’s flipping burgers – I could tell right away how intelligent she is, and when I found out she got a 24 on the ACT, I made it my mission to get her to go to college. I’m good at sensing people’s talents and gifts – that’s what I’m called to do – to help them reach their potential in the world. I believe that if you build these lives to some degree, they can go out and build other lives; they just need opportunity. I’m able to touch the lives of my employees and customers, giving them the love they might not have had before and a warm place to sit when they didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Photo courtesy of Erik Nance
Photo courtesy of Erik Nance

Hyde Park Farmers Market offering sign-ups for free community booth for local businesses and non-profits during the 2016 season

The Hyde Park Farmers Market kicks off a second season at Harper Court on Thursday, June 2, from 7 a.m. – 1 p.m., running through October 27, for a total of 22 weeks.

Seventeen vendors will be participating this year, selling a wide variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and plants, as well as farm-raised meat, eggs, baked goods, coffee, jam, and more.

Sponsored by Downtown Hyde Park (SSA #61), the Farmers Market is offering a new amenity this year – a free community booth for local businesses and non-profit organizations to share during the season. Based on availability, businesses or groups will be able to apply for a date slot, and the booth may be used for community outreach, demonstrations, and other crafts/activities, or select fundraising efforts such as bake sales for non-profit groups. If a group elects to do a bake sale, specific guidelines will be provided. The Hyde Park Farmers Market will supply a tent, table, and chairs.

“Typically booths must be rented for the entire season,” said Eric Reaves, Director of SSA #61, “but this new program enables local groups to reach the large audience of farmers market shoppers without the long-term commitment and cost.”

Interested groups can apply for a date slot by contacting Amy Williams at acwilliams@uchicago.edu.

For more information about the Hyde Park Farmers Market, visit the Downtown Hyde Park website and on Facebook.

Harper Court Summer Music Series returns for 2016 season, starting with Blues & Steppers on Wednesday, May 25

The University of Chicago, in collaboration with Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room, will kick off the second year of free, open-air summer concerts, with the Harper Court Summer Music Series, starting May 25. Located in the courtyard area at 5235 S. Harper Court off 53rd Street, the event includes four concerts scheduled for 6 – 9 p.m. on May 25, June 29, July 27, and August 31.

The series begins with Blues & Steppers Night on Wednesday, May 25, with the legendary Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings and DJ Eric “ET” Taylor, a member of the V103 elite mix team. Dance instructor Swan will help you brush up on your dancing skills, so bring a partner and your dancing shoes!

Jazz Night will be the feature on Wednesday, June 29, with jazz drummer sensation Makaya McCraven and his band, including Junius Paul on bass, Justefan on vibes, Matt Gold on guitar, and Marquis Hill on trumpet. Afterward, DJ Duane Powell will play the rarest grooves of jazz, funk, soul, and house music to get the dance floor moving.

Latin music is the theme for July 27, with DJ El Caobo and DJ Kamani Rashad serving up Salsa, Bachata, Meringue, and Kizomba music for an authentic sound experience. Dance instructors will be available, demonstrating the classic moves of these unique dance styles.

The series closes with an Afro-Beat Night on August 31, featuring Africa Hi-Fi, created by DJ Ron Trent and Sonia Hassan. This musical tribute honors Africa’s influence in world music and culture, fusing music and social consciousness with art and dance for a powerful experience.

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 AT&T, Chipotle, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Hyatt Place Hotel, Ja’ Grill, Native Foods, LA Fitness, Nancy Krause Floral Design and Garden Antiques, NoteworthyNotes, Porkchop, Sir & Madame, ULTA Beauty, and VILLA.

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

Harper Theater hosts “Catalyst for Change” presentations to reduce gun violence on May 19, 7-9 p.m.

On May 19 from 7-9 p.m., Hyde Park’s Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Avenue, will host “Catalyst for Change,” a group presentation by three local organizations working to reduce the gun violence in Chicago. The organizations—CeaseFire Illinois, UCAN, and Youth Guidance—aim to inspire potential volunteers to share their time, talents, and financial support.

Admission to the presentation is free, with a cash bar and light refreshments provided. All proceeds will benefit the attending organizations. RSVP to the event at reducegunviolencechicago@gmail.com.

“I’m upset and tired of hearing that over 1,000 Chicagoans have been shot so far this year, and I’m happy to provide the venue for this important event,” said Tony Fox, operator of the Harper Theater. “I hope lots of people attend, and I plan on personally volunteering with one or more of the groups.”

CeaseFire Illinois is the Illinois branch of the Cure Violence Association and utilizes a public health model to address violence, including working to interrupt potentially violent conflicts, prioritizing and treating the highest risk populations, and mobilizing the local community to change current behaviors.

UCAN empowers Chicago youth to create opportunities that ensure safer futures through Peace Hub, which aims to reduce exposure to violence, address trauma, and improve outcomes through access to services. The Peace Hub serves more than 100 local youth, resulting in a substantial decrease in arrest rates and a 47% increase in community engagement.

Youth Guidance creates school-based programs that allow at-risk children to overcome obstacles, focus on their education and, ultimately, succeed in school and in life. Their “Becoming A Man” program touches the lives of more than 2,500 young men in nearly 50 Chicago schools, and has led to a reduction of violent crime arrests by 45% and improved high school graduation rates.

 

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.

 

First Thursday Graphic
First Thursday Graphic

53rd Street's Ancien Café & Cycles Grand Opening on Tuesday, March 1 at 5:30 p.m.

Ancien Café  & Cycles, with its bright red-and-blue-painted brick exterior, is now officially open at 1558 E. 53rd Street beneath the Metra stop – the latest addition to the area’s growing retail and dining corridor.

The store name reflects the title given to those who complete the grueling, 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race in less than 90 hours, and co-owner Scott McIntosh is a two-time finisher. Some people say the name as “Ahn – Cee – An,” with the French pronunciation, but most Mid-westerners, including McIntosh, prefer to call it “Ain – Chen.”

The Hyde Park space, formerly the site of the 53rd Street Bicycle Center, is Ancien’s second location – McIntosh and partners Chris Dimmick and Chris Anderson opened their first location at 688 N. Milwaukee Avenue in the West Town neighborhood in early 2014.

“We’re proud to be in Hyde Park,” said McIntosh. “This is both a historic and developing neighborhood with an active and diverse community. We see an untapped market both for active people and health conscious eaters, and the proximity to the lakefront is unparalleled in the city.”

The company’s tag line, “Food. Drink. Motion…” refers to the goal of creating an environment that includes great food, coffee and tea, while supporting and encouraging an active lifestyle – whether on a bike or not. The space is a combination café with healthy food and beverage options and a bicycle studio, with a variety of bicycles, cycling accessories, and expert repair services available. Bicycle brands offered at the store include Bianchi, Moots, Scott, Tern, and Velo Orange, with Schwinn bicycles for children.

Ancien’s focus on hospitality includes the entire family – the inviting space has high chairs, books, toys, and activities for children. On the bike side, the store offers a unique bicycle buying program called “Trikes to Bikes.” Customers participating in the program may return a children’s bicycle purchased at the shop up to 18 months after purchase and receive up to 50 percent of the cost they paid for the original bike to put toward the next sized bicycle for their child.

Ancien’s café menu will continuously evolve, with an emphasis on serving a variety of healthful foods geared to the active lifestyles of guests. Fresh daily offerings will be prepared on site, with both vegan and vegetarian menu items. Breakfast and lunch will be served daily with both “to go” and dine in options. For breakfast, a variety of pastries, bagels, sandwiches, and homemade granola are offered. A selection of homemade sandwiches, soups, and salads will be available daily for lunch and snacks.

The café serves a signature blend of coffee from Big Shoulders Coffee, a local, award-winning, artisan coffee roaster, and McIntosh is even rolling out his personal recipe for chai tea, to be named the PBP Chai. Ancien provides catering services with platters for 8, 16, and 24 people, ideal for breakfast and lunch as well as after work events. Both Ancien locations are also available to host special events.

In addition to his many cycling related accomplishments, McIntosh has an equally impressive hospitality resume – having worked at the House of Blues, Chicago; Wave at the W Chicago - Lakeshore Hotel; Fountainhead; Michael Jordan’s Steak House Chicago, Pecking Order: A Chicken House; and Carnivale. Through his hospitality network, McIntosh met Kristine Subido, the acclaimed Chicago chef who developed Ancien’s notable café menu.

Dimmick brings over twenty years of experience within the cycling industry to the Ancien concept. For 15 years he was the general manager of Turin Bicycles in Evanston – a top 100 retailer in the United States. He later transitioned into a role as athlete coordinator for Lake Cycling shoes, working closely with sponsored athletes including 2008 Tour De France champion, Carlos Sastre. For the past four years, Dimmick was the director of International Sales for the Canadian bicycle brand Opus.

Rounding out the team, Anderson provides a solid background in the hospitality and live music industry in Chicago. Over the years, he has worked for a number of local venues such as Tommy Nevins Group, The Green Mill, and The Fulton Art Collective as a talent buyer and event specialist. With an outstanding reputation in the Chicago and national music scene, Anderson brings considerable experience to Ancien’s many special events and music offerings.

Ancien's formal ribbon-cutting event is Tuesday, March 1, at 5:30 p.m. – it will be an all-day celebration with special coupons and menu sampling. Business hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. -5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer. Customers who are pressed for time can preorder breakfast or lunch by calling 773- 947-0735.

You can connect with Ancien through their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

 

 

 

Ancien Cafe & Cycles at 1558 E. 53rd Street
The exterior of Ancien Cafe & Cycles at 1558 E. 53rd Street
Ancien logo
Ancien logo
Try Ancien's menu of healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack options
Try Ancien's menu of healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack options
Ancien's delicious "The Cheesiest" sandwich
Ancien's delicious "The Cheesiest" sandwich with a trio of cheese, local honey, basil, and beefsteak tomato on tuscan bread

Hyde Park businesses give Valentine’s Day couples a reason to celebrate

With Valentine’s Day next Sunday, February 14 – it’s the perfect time to start planning your gifts and celebrations. There will be no lack of romance in Hyde Park with several restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues offering special menus, gifts, and events for couples (and singles!) looking for a memorable holiday and night on the town.

Dining

For couples wanting to celebrate throughout the entire weekend, A10 Hyde Park at 1462 E. 53rd Street, The Promontory at 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue, Chant at 1509 E. 53rd Street, and Porkchop at 1516 E. Harper Court are all offering special menus and events from Friday, February 12, through Sunday, February 14.

A10 is offering a three-course tasting menu with optional wine pairing, a couple’s bar special, and beverage and brunch specials. The tasting menu is $65 per person with an optional $30 wine pairing and the bar special is $50 per couple with a half bottle of Champagne and choice of snacks. Call 773-288-1010 for reservations.

The Promontory has planned a three-course tasting menu for $45 per person with grilled oysters, strip steak, and chocolate dacquoise dessert. Their special “Cocktail for 2” features fresh strawberries, cream de cacao, vodka, fresh lemon, and sparkling wine for $14. Call 312-801-2100 for reservations.

Chant is featuring a 28-ounce double-cut, heart-shaped rib-eye steak with grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes and Béarnaise sauce, with one complimentary lava cake for $35 per person. After dinner from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m., stay and enjoy music by the Chester McSwain Jazz Band on Friday, February 12; and DJ Night House Music on Saturday, February 13.  Call 773-324-1999 for reservations.

Porkchop has created a special Valentine’s Day menu with your choice of appetizer, soup or salad, entrée, and deep-fried brownie dessert for $33 per person. For any singles dining alone, Porkchop is offering 50% off all regularly priced menu items, not including the Valentine’s Day menu. Call 773-493-9333 for reservations.

Ja’ Grill, at 1510 E. Harper Court, is celebrating all day long on Sunday, with a 50% discount on bottles of wine before 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., couples will receive a free bottle of Champagne or wine with entrée orders. For those dining solo after 5 p.m., Ja’ Grill will treat you to a free glass of Champagne, wine, or beer. Click here for more information.

Gifts

Kilwins, at 5226 S. Harper Avenue, is the perfect destination for all your Valentine’s Day sweets. Stop by for chocolate-dipped strawberries, gift baskets, boxed chocolates, chocolate hearts and truffles, and fudge. Shoppers who spend more than $50 will receive a coupon for a complimentary half-pound of fudge on their next visit with purchase, valid from February 15-29.

NoteworthyNotes, at 5231 S. Harper Court, is offering one free greeting card with any three cards purchased in February, as well as a raffle for a gallon container of delicious cookies valued at $40 – the winner will be selected on February 13. Stop in now to order their many items ready for personalization for a truly unique gift, or for procrastinators, the store will be open on Valentine’s Day from 12-5 p.m.

Entertainment

The new Hyde Park improv comedy club, The Revival, at 1160 E. 55th Street, is presenting “Love Is...” – a night of stand up comedy, games and music. “Couples will laugh and singles will mingle! Join your host, Doc Love, and four of Chicago's best comics for a night to remember!” The performance takes place on Sunday, February 14, at 7 p.m. Tickets $10 or $5 with student ID, and can be ordered by phone at 866-811-4111 or online here. If you’re celebrating on Friday or Saturday, The Revival has shows those nights as well – click here for the full calendar of events.

The Silver Room, at 1506 E. 53rd Street, is hosting SoulSessions, a live music open jam, with "no cover and no covers" on Sunday, February 14, from 7-10 p.m.

Don’t miss the Party Noire Valentine’s Day party at The Promontory on Friday, February 14, from 12-6 p.m. with a $10 cover charge. Tickets for the party are available here.

A10's Valentine's Day Menu
A10's Valentine's Day Menu - courtesy of A10
Chant's 28-ounce rib-eye steak
Chant's 28-ounce rib-eye steak - courtesy of Chant
Porkchop's Valentine's Day Special
Porkchop's Valentine's Day Special - courtesy of Porkchop
A great selection of Valentine's Day treats at Kilwins
A great selection of Valentine's Day treats at Kilwins - courtesy of Kilwins
NoteworthyNotes' Valentine's Day gift selection
NoteworthyNotes' Valentine's Day gift selection - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes
Enter the raffle to win these cookies at NoteworthyNotes
Enter the raffle to win these cookies at NoteworthyNotes - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes

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.

Eric Williams at his Hyde Park store, The Silver Room
Eric Williams at his Hyde Park store, The Silver Room (Photo by Rob Kozloff)

Hyde Park restaurants A10 and The Promontory participating in 9th annual Chicago Restaurant Week 2016

Just as many of us are getting over holiday treats and meal indulgences, Chicago’s annual Restaurant Week is back to tempt foodies with “…top fare at value pricing at restaurants throughout the city and surrounding suburbs,” according to the Choose Chicago tourism website.

For two weeks (Friday, January 22 to Thursday, February 4), over 350 Chicago restaurants are offering multiple-course, prix-fixe meals at $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner, with tax and gratuity not included.

Two noted Hyde Park restaurants are participating – A10 Hyde Park at 1462 E. 53rd Street and The Promontory at 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue. A10 is offering a special dinner menu and The Promontory is offering lunch as well as dinner menus.

The A10 dinner menu includes a first course of roasted beet salad or roasted Kabocha squash soup, a second course of brown butter parsnip cappelletti or braised venison leg, and a third course of sweet potato “dauphines.”

The Promontory lunch menu includes a first course of house green salad or clam chowder and a second course of a Slagel Farms lamb burger, Slagel Farms turkey roulade sandwich, or hand cut pappardelle. Their dinner menu includes a first course of warm beet salad, Wagyu beef tartare, or celery root agnolotti; a second course of Green Circle Farms chicken, P.E.I. mussels, or roasted squash risotto; and a third course of chocolate and hazelnut pave.

To view the complete list of participating restaurants, click here.

A10's Roasted Beet Salad
A10's Roasted Beet Salad - photo courtesy of A10
The Promontory's P.E.I. Mussels
The Promontory's P.E.I. Mussels - photo courtesy of The Promontory