News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

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.”

Chant General Manager Aldo Rojas and Executive Chef Steven Rife
Chant restaurant, 1509 E. 53rd Street
Shrimp and Grits at Chant

Look-a-like characters inspired by the movie, “Frozen,” to visit local businesses for last week of Hyde Park Holiday Nights

For the last week of the Hyde Park Holiday Nights festivities, look-a-like characters inspired by the popular movie, “Frozen,” will be welcoming children at eight local stores on Thursday, Dec. 17, from 5-7 p.m.

Based on popular demand, there will be two Elsa-inspired characters coming to Hyde Park, with the first Elsa visiting Toys Etcetera at 1502 E. 55th Street in The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center from 5-5:45 p.m., before stopping a few doors down at Wesley’s Shoe Corral at 1506 E. 55th Street from 6-7 p.m. For “Frozen” fans, Toys Etcetera has a wide selection of licensed “Frozen” merchandise including Elsa and Anna dolls, Ravensburger puzzles, story and sticker books, costumes, doll clothing, braids, and jewelry. Wesley’s Shoe Corral is offering free “Frozen” stickers and popcorn for all children.

The second Elsa look-a-like will be at Bellē Up Boutique at 1504 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m., and then across the street at Lively Athletics, 1457 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m. Bellē Up will offer a free $10 gift card for those who check in at the store’s Facebook or Yelp pages between 5-7 p.m., as well as a “Frozen”-themed craft for children to make as a keepsake.

The Anna look-a-like will start at Harper Court’s new Einstein Bros. Bagels at 5230 S. Harper Court from 5-5:45 p.m. and then move to Kilwins, 5226 S. Harper Avenue from 6-7 p.m. Kilwins will be offering free fudge and hot chocolate samples from 6-7 p.m. as well as 10% off all purchases during the hour with the secret password, “Downtown Hyde Park.”

Children can visit the Olaf look-a-like at Ancien, the new bicycle shop and café located at 1558 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m. and then at Freehling Pot and Pan Co. at 1365 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m. Freehling will be providing complimentary cookies and cider.

Harper Court is a great place for families to meet before visiting all the characters – Einstein Bros. Bagels is hosting the Hot Chocolate Welcome Station at Harper Court with complimentary hot chocolate and sweets, while supplies last. Native Foods, also at Harper Court, will be offering free “chaider” samples – a mixture of cider and chai tea. Chipotle will be offering first come, first served coupons for free children’s meals to the first 25 guests at the restaurant between 5-7 p.m.

For the full schedule, visit the event website. Be sure to tag your photos and videos with #HPHoliday to share in all the fun.

FROZEN and all related characters and elements (C) & ™ Walt Disney Pictures, Inc.

Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic
Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic

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.

Al Martinez from Nadeau's Ice Sculptures carving a penguin
Al Martinez from Nadeau's Ice Sculptures carving a penguin - photo courtesy of K. Hull
A few lucky kids got their own hand-etched souvenirs
A few lucky kids got their own hand-etched souvenirs - photo courtesy of K. Hull
Snowglobe ice sculpture at Harper Court
Snowglobe ice sculpture at Harper Court - photo courtesy of K. Hull

NoteworthyNotes opens at Harper Court, with ribbon cutting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 10

Harper Court’s latest retailer, NoteworthyNotes, will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday, Dec. 10, with an official ribbon cutting taking place from 6:00-6:15 p.m. The stationery and invitations store, at 5231 S. Harper Court, opened for business on Nov. 20.

Owned by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business alum Cindy Rudman, NoteworthyNotes launched in 2000 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and moved to its storefront location in Lakeview in 2010. The retailer has become a trusted resource for custom wedding, mitzvah, and party invitations, as well as personalized stationery, self-inking stamps, holiday cards, and much more.

In addition to traditional stationery items, NoteworthyNotes is a source for personalized gifts with speedy turnaround times – including tote and cosmetic bags, key chains and luggage tags, clipboards and pens, water bottles and travel mugs, coasters and cutting boards, and many other items. The store offers unique gifts for everyone from babies, kids, and teens to business colleagues, teachers, family, and friends. Rudman and her team are happy to make suggestions for the perfect gift.

NoteworthyNotes also offers embroidery services to add a name, monogram, or initials to many of the store’s products. Customers may even bring in items purchased elsewhere for personalization.

“I am excited to bring NoteworthyNotes to Hyde Park, the first place I lived when I moved to the United States,” commented Rudman, a Montreal native. “I am eager to meet members of the community and tailor the offerings at the Hyde Park location to their needs.”

“NoteworthyNotes is a niche retailer with a history of success with personalized gifts and stationery,” commented James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University. “It fills an unmet need in Hyde Park and can become a specialty shopping destination for area residents, students, and visitors.”

NoteworthyNotes opening graphic - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes
NoteworthyNotes opening graphic - courtesy of NoteworthyNotes

Vue53 to host VIP Grand Opening on December 8 – rental applications now being accepted

Vue53, the new 13-story, mixed-use residential and retail building currently under construction at 1330 E. 53rd Street, recently opened a temporary leasing office at 1453 E. 53rd Street, and is hosting a VIP Grand Opening event for the community on Tuesday, December 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The event will take place at the leasing office, giving people an opportunity to see full-scale mock-ups of the apartment room sizes with furniture, meet the Vue53 staff, and learn additional information about the building and its leasing process.

Vue53 will feature 267 units, including furnished and unfurnished 1 bedroom/1 bath units, three different 2 bedroom/2 bath units, and two different studio apartment layouts. Amenities include a 24-hour front desk attendant, 24-hour fitness center, modern clubhouse with complimentary Wi-Fi, business center and study lounges, game room with pool tables and flat-screen television, multiple outdoor sundecks, secure bike storage, optional in-building parking, and more.

The best way to apply for housing is via the website. On the site, applicants will click on “Sign a Lease” at the top of the page. There is a $50.00 application fee and a $150 administration fee due at that time (if a lease is not signed within 72 hours, the administration fee will be refunded).

Vue53 also includes 28 affordable housing units, and interested applicants should contact the leasing office for more details.

Peak Campus thrilled to welcome this exciting project to our growing portfolio,” said Bob Clark, President at Peak Campus.  “We believe this is a great addition to the 53rd Street corridor and will soon be part of the neighborhood’s unique cultural fabric.  Our team looks forward to serving our new residents and the local community with an unmatched customer experience and a cutting-edge feature and amenity package.” 

 

Vue53 VIP Grand Opening graphic - courtesy of Vue53
Vue53 VIP Grand Opening graphic - courtesy of Vue53

Faces of 53rd Street: Fylynne “Lynne the Laundry Lady” Crawford

In 2007, after selling some South Side apartment buildings they co-owned, Fylynne Crawford and her husband Darryl were shopping for a new business venture. Through a laundromat broker, they learned that Kimbark Coin Laundry, located at 1218 E. 53rd Street since 1963, was for sale. The couple had close ties to Hyde Park, so they bought it. That’s when Fylynne Crawford, who goes by the name Lynne, became “Lynne the Laundry Lady.”

Crawford, 57, uses videos, photos, and posts on the laundromat’s Facebook page to pitch herself as an expert on tackling tough stains from items such as gravy and barbeque sauce. As owner operators, Crawford and her husband spend about 40 hours a week in the laundromat. She recently spoke to the 53rd Street Blog about her business and involvement in the community.

Q. How has the business grown or changed through the years?

Crawford: We bought Kimbark Laundry in 2007, but the store has been a staple in Hyde Park since 1963. Since we bought the business, we’ve added a drop-off laundry service, a dry-cleaning service and a pick-up and delivery service. We have 50 washers and 34 dryers, and we have two employees. As a neighborhood business, we have a couple of target markets.  First, we want to reach those residents that don’t have access to a washer and dryer in their house or apartment. Second, with our drop-off service we’d like to reach those people who don’t have the time or the inclination to do their laundry.

Q. What are your connections to Hyde Park?

Crawford: We have been very connected to Hyde Park in our business and personally over the years. My husband and business partner, Darryl Crawford, was a Hyde Park resident for 20 years. He lived in a building just across the street from Kimbark Laundry. He was also a member of the Local School Council and served as a coach for the American Youth Soccer Organization league.

Since our ownership of Kimbark Laundry, we have been involved with local community groups at various times, including the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the Hyde Park Kiwanis Club and the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Council. We have also volunteered on various political campaigns for local elected officials.

Q.   Why did you decide to start putting videos online?

Crawford:  The idea came from a customer who is a videographer, Marvin Evins. From his coming to the laundromat, we started talking and he offered to film a commercial and put it on YouTube. We filmed here at the store. We also promote the laundromat through our website, Facebook page, Google ads, flyers in the neighborhood, and signage in the windows.

 

Q. In the past Kimbark Laundry has had community-focused events inside the laundromat. Do you plan to continue or restart those efforts?

Crawford: We have used Kimbark Laundry to help encourage neighborhood children to read through a program we call Wash & Read. We had prominent Hyde Parkers, including Toni Preckwinckle and Barbara Flynn Currie, come in to read to the children of our customers. It was a rousing success. Also, during various elections, we did weekly voter registration drives to encourage civic involvement in the political process. We have not done these kinds of events recently, but we would like to do more in the future.

 

Q. What do you want customers and prospective customers to know about you and Kimbark Laundry?

Crawford: We want customers and prospective customers to know that Kimbark Laundry is here to serve the community. As a small business, we want and need the support of our neighbors. My goal is to get to know our neighbors.

 

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 as 53rd@lists.uchicago.edu.

"Lynne the Laundry Lady." Photo by Darryl Crawford
Inside Kimbark Laundry, 1218 E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park. Photo by Darryl Crawford

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.”

"Friends & Family" opening day at the Harper Court Einstein Bros. Bagels locatio
"Friends & Family" opening day at the Harper Court Einstein Bros. Bagels location
The Einstein Bros. Bagels staff in action on opening day
The Einstein Bros. Bagels staff in action on opening day

“Happy Hyde Parking” promotion returns for a second year

Based on its success during the 2014 holiday shopping season, the “Happy Hyde Parking” promotion at the Harper Court parking garage has returned for a second year.

Beginning last week with Black Friday on November 28, through Thursday, December 31, shoppers receive two hours of free parking when they park at the 200-space garage, accessed on the west side of Lake Park Avenue, just north of 53rd Street. Regular parking rates will apply after the initial two free hours. No validation or coupon is needed.

The University of Chicago is providing the benefit in coordination with parking operator LAZ Parking as an added convenience for shoppers visiting Hyde Park businesses as well as attending neighborhood holiday events.

“With the opening of new Harper Court businesses including Sir & Madame, NoteworthyNotes, and Einstein Bros. Bagels; 53rd Street businesses such as Modern Cooperative; as well as the three-week Hyde Park Holiday Nights events on December 3, 10, and 17,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University, “two hours of free parking is a great incentive to take advantage of all the activity downtown Hyde Park has to offer this holiday season.”

To bring more visibility to the promotion, large-scale window signage was installed on the southeast and northwest corners of the Harper Court building as well as the entrance to the parking garage.

"Happy Hyde Parking" signage of east side of Harper Court building
"Happy Hyde Parking" signage of east side of Harper Court building
"Happy Hyde Parking" signage of south side of Harper Court building
"Happy Hyde Parking" signage of south side of Harper Court building

“Hyde Park Holiday Nights” will offer three weeks of family fun December 3, 10, and 17

The Hyde Park neighborhood will have plenty of holiday activities for the entire family with the first-ever “Hyde Park Holiday Nights” taking place on three consecutive Thursday evenings in December.

The first week includes holiday caroling on Dec. 3, from 6-9 p.m. with four different singing groups, including costumed Victorian performers from Lola Bard Productions from 6-9 p.m.; two University of Chicago a cappella groups – the women’s ensemble, “Men in Drag,” and the men’s ensemble, “Run for Cover” from 6-7 p.m.; as well as the South Shore Opera Company of Chicago from 7-8 p.m. Strolling carolers will sing along the north and south sides of 53rd Street and at The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center. More detailed times and locations for each group of carolers will be available at the welcome station at Harper Court on the night of the event.

On Dec. 10, Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures will offer two ice-carving demonstrations, with the first one taking place at Harper Court from 4-6 p.m., and the second one at The Courtyard Shops at Hyde Park Shopping Center from 7-9 p.m.  Leading up to the event, local community members are invited to vote for the ice carving selections they would most like to see via an online survey. Choices include a dancing bear playing a horn, a gingerbread person on a house, a winter polar bear with scarf, a penguin on an iceberg, an ice skater, or a snowman with hat and scarf. Votes will be counted until Dec. 7, and the top two choices will be carved at the event.

Characters from the popular movie “Frozen” will be visiting Hyde Park businesses on Dec. 17, from 5-7 p.m. Due to popular demand, there will be two Elsa characters, as well as Anna, and Olaf.  Elsa #1 will be at Toys Etcetera at 1502 E. 55th Street from 5-5:45 p.m. and at Wesley’s Shoe Corral at 1506 E. 55th Street from 6-7 p.m. Elsa #2 will be at Bellē Up Boutique at 1504 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m. and at Lively Athletics at 1457 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m.  Anna will be at Einstein Bros. Bagels at 5230 S. Harper Court from 5-5:45 p.m. and at Kilwins at 5226 S. Harper Avenue from 6-7 p.m. Olaf will be at Ancien Cycles at 1558 E. 53rd Street from 5-5:45 p.m. and at The Freehling Pot and Pan Co. at 1365 E. 53rd Street from 6-7 p.m.

On each of the three event nights, the newly opened Einstein Bros. Bagels will host a “Hot Chocolate Welcome Station” at Harper Court, with complimentary hot chocolate and sweets while supplies last.

All three events are free, and the Harper Court Parking Garage will offer two hours of free parking from November 28-December 31. Shops will stay open late with special offerings, so plan to make a night of it.

Hyde Park Holiday Nights is a partnership of the University of Chicago Commercial Real Estate Operations group, Downtown Hyde Park, and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

For additional event information, click here.

Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic
Hyde Park Holiday Nights Graphic

New Harper Court boutique, Sir & Madame, to host holiday event with KOVAL Distillery and local baker, Justice of the Pies

Sir & Madame, the recently opened Harper Court boutique owned by Hyde Park couple Brian and Autumn Merritt at 5225 S. Harper Court, will be hosting a special holiday event on Sunday, November 22, from 12-4 p.m., teaming with Chicago distiller KOVAL; award-winning local baker, Justice of the Pies; and Always Hungry Chicago, a resource for gourmet food fans to learn more about diverse cuisine “off the beaten path” in the city. Sir & Madame had a pop-up location on 53rd Street in late 2013/early 2014, and their permanent Harper Court location is the culmination of a goal to stay in the neighborhood where the couple grew up and formed a family.

The Merritts collaborated with Maya-Camille Broussard from Justice of the Pies and Chicago’s KOVAL Distillery to create two specialty pies – the "Sir" pie is a KOVAL bourbon-infused pecan pie topped with a rich chocolate sauce, and the "Madame" pie is an apple pie topped with streusel and homemade KOVAL bourbon-infused caramel sauce. Justice of the Pies recently participated in the South Side Pie Challenge, winning first place in the Sweet Potato/Pumpkin category, and second place in the Fruit category.

Merritt commented, “We’re thrilled to be back in Hyde Park with the permanent launch of Sir & Madame, and this event is a great opportunity to work with some of our favorite people and brands. We invite everyone to visit the store to experience our ‘classic with a twist’ design vision.”

Customers may order the limited edition “Sir” and “Madame” pies (or any of the other pies from Justice of the Pies) until Friday, November 20, and the pies will be ready for pickup at the event on Sunday, November 22 – just in time for Thanksgiving. Orders may be placed at http://justiceofthepies.com/.

The event will feature pie slices for purchase, a limited number of special gift bags, and KOVAL bourbon punch.

Limited edition "Sir" and "Madame" pies by Justice of the Pies
Limited edition "Sir" and "Madame" pies by Justice of the Pies - photo courtesy of Justice of the Pies
KOVAL whiskey selection
KOVAL whiskey selection - photo courtesy of KOVAL
Sir & Madame, Hyde Park
Sir & Madame, Hyde Park