News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce

7th Annual Harambee Art and Craft Music Festival comes to 53rd Street this weekend - Saturday and Sunday, August 26-27

The upcoming free Harambee Art and Craft Music Festival will have something for everyone to enjoy with a full lineup of arts, crafts, fashion, and music at Nichols Park at 1355 E. 55th Street on Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27, from 12-8 p.m. both days.

The event is community supported by the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, Hyde Park Produce, Kilimanjaro International Inc., Pockets, and The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi Bar, and sponsored in part by filmmaker Daryl Brown, fashion design company Reinments of Power, and Allen Paintings.

Harambee, a Kenyan tradition, means “all pull together” in Swahili. All proceeds will go toward the creation of summer youth jobs and scholarships to study abroad in various countries in Africa.

Musical performers will include Bantu Man, Felena Bunn & Friends, Jazz Experience, Super Tribe, Mike Dangeroux & The Tropic, and The Talking Drum.

Festival-goers are encouraged to bring chairs.

For more information go to https://www.facebook.com/events/478548932525548/

Faces of 53rd Street: Matthias Merges

By Calmetta Coleman and Lilian Huang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Hyde Park restaurants to participate in June 9 Dinner Crawl

The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce Dinner Crawl takes place on Tuesday, June 9.

The annual event features 10 local restaurants including A10 Hyde Park, Chant, Clarke’s Diner, Ja’ Grill, Kilwins, Mellow Yellow Restaurant, Native Foods, Porkchop, Rajun Cajun, and ZBerry Frozen Yogurt & Treats.

The crawl begins at 5:30 pm. starting from The Silver Room, and continues until 9 p.m.

Tickets are $35 each, or $25 when purchased online by June 8 at www.hydeparkchamberchicago.org/crawl.

June 24 Hyde Park Dinner Crawl to feature 53rd Street cuisine

Eight restaurants on 53rd Street will offer culinary delights as part of the Hyde Park Dinner Crawl organized by the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

Stops along the Crawl include A10, Chant, Clarke's, Kilwins, Mellow Yellow, Native Foods, Pizza Capri, and Rajun Cajun.

The event will run from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24. Tickets are $30 per person in advance or $35 on the day of the Crawl. To purchase tickets online, visit hydeparkchamberchicago.org/crawl.

Porkchop celebrates opening with ribbon cutting

The newest eatery in Hyde Park’s Harper Court celebrated another milestone this morning, when more than a dozen community leaders turned out for the official ribbon cutting for Porkchop, the barbeque restaurant and whiskey bar that opened last month.

Jovanis Bouargoub, the owner of Porkchop and a resident of Hyde Park, was joined by 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns, Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wallace Goode, South East Chicago Commission Executive Director Wendy Walker Williams and others in front of the restaurant at 1516 E. Harper Court.

“Porkchop is the latest example of the abundance of opportunities for business owners in Hyde Park and options for consumers in and around the neighborhood,” said Goode. The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce organized the ribbon cutting.

The new Hyde Park spot is the second Porkchop location for Bouargoub, who also owns the Porkchop on Randolph Street. He plans to enhance the concept for his neighborhood.  

In the coming weeks, the Hyde Park restaurant will introduce regular live music, with a mix of country, rock, and blues bands performing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Randolph Street shop has occasional performances, but live bands would be a regular feature for Porkchop in Hyde Park.

“This will be special to Hyde Park, if it works well,” said Bouargoub, who lives just two blocks from the new restaurant.

The Hyde Park location serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and opens daily at 7 a.m. Closing hours are midnight, Sunday through Wednesday; 1 a.m., Thursday, and 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday.

The menu, of course, includes smoked pork ribs, rib tips, pulled pork and other barbeque dishes, along with Southern comfort foods such as fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and shrimp po boys.

The restaurant celebrated its grand opening in mid-April, and Bouargoub said business has been good. Many Hyde Parkers were already familiar with the concept, since Porkchop began bringing its food truck to the neighborhood well before the restaurant opened. Bouargoub said the food truck will continue to operate in Hyde Park and on the University of Chicago campus.

 

 

 

3rd Annual Celebrate Hyde Park Oktoberfest Adds Second Day, Children's Book Fair; October 6 and 7

The annual Celebrate Hyde Park Oktoberfest will return to 53rd Street this year as a bigger, more family-friendly event, adding a second day of musical performances and including a popular Children’s Book Fair in the lineup of youth activities.

The 2012 festival will be held Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7, and will feature Chicago-area performers, including Dave Matthews tribute band the Trippin Billies and R&B artists Chicago Catz. The extra day is expected to boost festival attendance from about 9,000 people in 2011 to 15,000 - 20,000 this year.

As part of the Celebrate Hyde Park festival series, Oktoberfest is designed to attract people to the fast-growing 53rd Street retail corridor. The festivals are sponsored by the Hyde Park Vitality Committee, which includes the University of Chicago as the lead festival sponsor, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, and the South East Chicago Commission, among others.

“Three years ago, we set out with a mission to help bring people of all ages to 53rd Street for fun and entertainment,” said Wendy Williams, executive director of the SECC, which organizes the festival. “Today, Oktoberfest and other Celebrate Hyde Park festivals have become widely anticipated community events and a significant part of the cultural offerings of the neighborhood.”

In addition to musical performances, scheduled activities include a beer garden for adults and a pumpkin patch, parade, pony rides and other entertainment for children—all for a suggested donation of $5. Food and retail vendors also will line 53rd Street from Dorchester to Kimbark Avenues. Children’s activities will be held in Nichols Park, adjacent to 53rd. Festival hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

New home for former 57th Street Children’s Book Fair

Among the activities in Nichols Park will be the Children’s Book Fair, which previously had been held on 57th Street in Hyde Park for 25 years. A new addition to Oktoberfest, the book fair will include author appearances and book signings as well as books for purchase. The fair will be open from 1 – 6 p.m. both days on the south end of Nichols Park, near 55th and Kimbark.

“Oktoberfest continues to get bigger and better,” said Wallace Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. “The mix of entertainment and vendor offerings attracts people from both surrounding neighborhoods and other parts of the city and provides an opportunity for local businesses to show what they have to offer.”

For access to the Celebrate Hyde Park mobile app and for updates on Oktoberfest, text CHP to 72727.

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce on the move

Looks like the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce is all settled in to its new ground floor office at 5501 South Everett Ave. Well, actually it’s not so new. The Chamber relocated in December, but postponed its open house until last month so that it could accommodate the 70 guests both inside and outdoors. This successful event celebrated the work the Chamber does on behalf of businesses and residents in the 4th and 5th wards.

One of the projects the Chamber of Commerce is watching closely is the effort to redevelop Harper Court and 53rd Street. Though businesses can be found throughout the neighborhood, “53rd Street is still considered downtown Hyde Park,” said Executive Director Lenora Austin. “We want to see a very viable mix of businesses.”

The Chamber has had an ongoing dialogue with University officials since early last year, and is just as eager as residents to see what the new 53rd Street will be like, Austin said.

Visit the Chamber’s website: http://www.hydeparkchamberchicago.org/

Feel free to contact the office if you have questions about city services or local businesses. Also, don’t forget to download or pick up a copy of the Chamber’s Hyde Park Business Directory. http://www.hydeparkchamberchicago.org/businessDirectory.php