News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faces of 53rd Street: Tony Winters of Ancien

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

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

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

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

How did you first get interested in cooking?

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

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

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

How did you start working at Ancien?

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

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

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

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

What do you like best about being a chef?

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

Who does the cooking in your house?

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

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

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

What is the best thing about working in Hyde Park?

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

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


Ancien Chef Tony Winters
Ancien Chef Tony Winters - photo by Luis Burgos
Ancien's Veggie Burger
Ancien's Veggie Burger - photo by Luis Burgos
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Amy Srodon
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Free two-hour parking at Harper Court returns for a third year

The “Happy Hyde Parking” holiday season promotion at the Harper Court parking garage has returned for a third consecutive year.

The promotion began with Black Friday on November 25, and will continue through Saturday, 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 upcoming Hyde Park Holly-Day event on December 10, as well as the many shopping and dining options in Harper Court and on 53rd Street,  the Happy Hyde Parking promotion makes it easier for everyone to enjoy all that the neighborhood has to offer this holiday season,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University.

Celebrate the Season with Hyde Park Holly-Day on Saturday, December 10

Hyde Park gets into the holiday spirit with a daylong schedule of family-friendly special events for “Hyde Park Holly-Day” on Saturday, December 10th, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Start the morning off with breakfast with Santa at Einstein Bros. Bagels at 5230 S. Harper Court, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Santa will be available for selfies and posed pictures free of charge; there will not be a professional photographer available, so make sure to bring your camera or phone.

Stay close to Harper Court for the ice carving demonstration from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. Ice carving artists from Nadeau’s Ice Sculptures, Inc. will be on site creating an original ice sculpture while you watch.

Four costumed characters – Elsa, Elena of Avalor, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman – will be at Hyde Park businesses from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. ready for photos, hugs, and autographs. Meet Elsa at NoteworthyNotes, 5231 S. Harper Court, from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and at Kilwins, 5226 S. Harper Avenue, from 12-1 p.m. Wonder Woman will be at Jojayden Shoes, 1457 E. 53rd Street, from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and at The Silver Room, 1506 E. 53rd Street, from 12-1 p.m. Meet Spiderman at The Freehling Pot & Pan Co. at 1365 E. 53rd Street from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and at Pearle Vision, 1200 E. 53rd Street, from 12-1 p.m. Elena of Avalor will be at Toys et Cetera, 1502 E. 55th Street, from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and at Treasure Island, 1526 E. 55th Street, from 12-1 p.m. Many of the participating businesses will be offering special sales while the characters are visiting in the store, so be sure ask the store employees.

As an added treat, everyone is invited to join 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King for an afternoon of caroling from 12-2 p.m., starting in Harper Court - spreading holiday cheer through the gift of song.

If you missed breakfast with Santa, you’ll have your chance to have lunch with him and take pictures at Native Foods, 1518 E. Harper Court, from 12-2 p.m.; and night owls can enjoy cocktails with Santa at Seven Ten Lanes, 1055 E. 55th Street, from 6-8 p.m.

Receive two hours of free parking at the Harper Court Parking Garage from 11/25 through 12/31 – the entrance is located on South Lake Park Avenue just south of the McDonald’s restaurant on 52nd Street. Pull a ticket when entering the garage, and if you park for less than two hours there will not be a charge when exiting.

Be sure to tag all your pictures and videos with #hphollyday to join in all the fun.

Get all the event details and learn more about other Hyde Park holiday activities at

53rd Street Hosts First-Ever CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival November 18-20

For the weekend of November 18-20, 2016, Hyde Park’s 53rd Street area will host the CONNECT Hyde Park Art Festival, as mentioned on the event website, “…a three-day, multi-sited arts festival that combines visual + performing art, designed objects, film, music, fashion and literary culture.”

Developed by Eric Williams, owner of The Silver Room located at 1506 E. 53rd Street, in partnership with the University of Chicago Commercial Real Estate Operations (CREO) group, the free festival “…provides the opportunity to explore and engage with cutting-edge contemporary art and design by some of Chicago’s leading artists, designers, curators and art institutions.”

“Based on the success of Eric Williams’ Downtown Hyde Park/Silver Room Block Party on 53rd Street this July, we are excited to collaborate on this special cultural event for the community, highlighting the strength of the Hyde Park arts community as well as the vibrancy of the neighborhood,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for commercial real estate operations for the University.

“We have nearly 100 of the city’s finest artists confirmed to participate in CONNECT, including graphic designers, painters, photographers, installation artists, furniture designers, musicians, and more,” said Eric Williams, creator of the event. “This is a great opportunity to showcase Hyde Park and celebrate all forms of art.”

Exhibition sites include the Collaboration Gallery at 1538 E. 53rd Street (near Starbucks), featuring artists and South Side institutions; the Community Gallery at 1520 S. Harper Court (near Native Foods), with “Permanent Record: Chicago Hip Hop Kulture;” the Collective Gallery at 1504 E. 53rd Street (between Modern Cooperative and The Silver Room), highlighting local and emerging artists; and the Creation Gallery at 1465 E. 53rd Street (near Rajun Cajun), with designed objects from fashion to furniture. Additional exhibition venues include the Harper Theater at 5238 S. Harper Avenue, showing the film “Shake the Dust,” produced by Nasir “Nas” Jones, documenting the transformative power of hip hop in Colombia, Cambodia, Uganda, and Yemen; Sir & Madame at 5225 S. Harper Court; The Silver Room at 1506 E. 53rd Street; Modern Cooperative at 1500 E. 53rd Street; A10 Hyde Park at 1462 E. 53rd Street; and Jojayden at 1457 E. 53rd Street.

Local artists are invited to submit their works for possible exhibition by Sunday, November 13. Artists may submit up to five pieces of art from two series of artworks; one published and one unpublished in categories including watercolor, charcoal, photography, graffiti, illustration, graphic design, collage, sculpture, or multimedia. Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of CONNECT Hyde Park curators, and selected artists will be notified via email by Tuesday, November 15, with artwork needed by Thursday, November 17 at the designated gallery space.

The event is garnering local press in the Hyde Park Herald, DNA Chicago, and was named by Time Out Chicago as one of the “9 Art Gallery Exhibitions to See in November.”

Festival hours are Friday, November 18, from 5-10 pm; Saturday, November 19, from 12-10 pm; and Sunday, November 20, from 12-5 pm. There will be an after party on opening night at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Avenue, from 10 pm -2 am, featuring jazz great, Kahil El-Zabar, with additional performers to be announced.

Parking is free in the Harper Court garage (entry on South Lake Park Avenue just south of McDonald's) from 5 pm on Friday, November 18 through 11:59 pm on Sunday, November 20 for the duration of the CONNECT event.  Parkers are instructed to pull into the garage as normal, pull a ticket, and as long as they enter and exit between those time periods, it will register as $0 being owed when they show the ticket at exit.

For more information, visit the event website and Facebook and Instagram accounts.

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.”

Trushar Patel, owner of Rajun Cajun
Trushar Patel, owner of Rajun Cajun

Faces of 53rd Street: Juliet Brown

Faces of 53rd Street is a series of blog posts that profile business owners, employees, and shoppers who contribute to the vibrancy of Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail corridor. In the first video in the series, meet Juliet Brown, studio manager for CorePower Yoga at the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Calmetta Coleman
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Jojayden Shoes opens on 53rd Street today

A new shoe store is coming to 53rd Street. On Friday, June 24, Jojayden Shoes will have a soft launch opening at 1457 E. 53rd Street from 5-9 p.m. with drinks and appetizers. The store, owned by Schaumburg resident Wale Nubi, will carry Nubi’s branded Jojayden men’s shoe collection and seven other brands of men’s and women’s shoes and accessories – including leather goods such as handbags and wallets, as well as sunglasses, bracelets and wristwatches, socks, and hand-made bow ties. Regular store hours are 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday till Saturday and 11a.m. - 6 p.m. on Sunday.

We sat down with Nubi to learn more about his business launch in Hyde Park:

Describe your background and how you got interested in fashion, especially shoes and accessories.

“I was born in Nigeria as the fifth of six children and youngest son, and everyone in my family loved fashion. My older brothers lived in London when I was a teenager, and since we all wore the same shoe size, they would send me their designer shoes when they were finished with them. I became known as the ‘shoe guy’ at school because here I was, just a teenager, wearing these expensive, fancy shoes when everyone else was just wearing sneakers. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and business owners. My father owns a hotel, my mother owns a gift store, and all my brothers and sisters have their own businesses, so I caught that same entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age. I was formerly an IT consultant for Fortune 500 companies including Siemens and Anixter, but my heart was always in fashion. I started doing research into shoe construction and went to several different countries to see their manufacturing processes – I even went to the Gucci factory in Italy – I wanted to see how their shoes were made and learn the best techniques. My brand name, ‘Jojayden,’ actually comes from my two sons’ names, Jayden, who is almost four years old; and Josiah, who is almost three. Jojayden was a side business for me in the beginning, but once my kids were born, I began to take it much more seriously, growing it into a full-time career.”

What led you to open your new store in Hyde Park?

“Eric Williams, the owner of The Silver Room at 1506 E. 53rd Street, is my good friend, and I used to sell Jojayden shoes in his Wicker Park store. When he moved his store to Hyde Park, I started selling them there as well, and noticed that I was selling twice the number of shoes in the Hyde Park location as I was previously selling on the north side – so I knew there was a market for my product. I was always hanging out in Hyde Park with Eric, and really fell in love with the neighborhood. Eric mentioned that a shoe store would do well in the area, and I started exploring retail leasing options on 53rd Street. In a way, I feel like Hyde Park chose me, and I’m so excited to have the opportunity to open my first store.”

What types of products will you be selling?

“Jojayden will carry men’s and women’s shoes and accessories, including handbags, sunglasses, jewelry, socks, hand-made bow ties, and more.”

Why do you think your store will be a good fit in the Hyde Park community?

“My test run at The Silver Room in Hyde Park did very well, and I feel positive that my shoes will reach the right fashion-conscious audience here. I love the energy I see, and the people I meet around 53rd Street. There’s a unique family spirit here from what I have noticed – everyone seems to have everyone’s back – they say, ‘hi’ to you even if they don’t know you. My shoes are unique and hand-made – you can’t find these types of shoes at DSW, Nordstrom, or any of the larger retailers.”

What is your favorite part about being a small business owner?

“I love that I now have the ability to follow my passion and create my own destiny. I feel that you get out what you put into a business, and there’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes with seeing people wearing your product and really responding to it in a positive way.”

You offer an option for completely customized shoes – what can you tell us about this process?

“I offer truly customized shoes for my customers. They can come in with a picture and we can make it for them. We also offer a 'build your own shoe' function on our website. Customers can choose the shoe material (calfskin, suede, patent leather, crocodile, or fabric), the toe style, and the type of sole (commando, wedge, rubber, or three types of leather) for a look they won’t find anywhere else. Custom shoes can take six to eight weeks to create, but are often finished sooner.”

Photo courtesty of Wale Nubi
Jojayden Shoes - photo courtesy of Wale Nubi
Jojayden Shoes - photo courtesy of Wale Nubi
Jojayden Shoes - photo courtesy of Wale Nubi