During an Aug. 27 Black Economic Empowerment Rally (BEER) held at Bitoy’s Bistro, 5946 W. Chicago Ave., restaurant owner Layla Bitoy-Dillion said she’s grateful to bring a different kind of business to Austin.

“First and foremost, we’re grateful to be in the Austin community, really close to Oak Park, but grateful for the opportunity to serve our community and bring some new products and services that they haven’t had,” she said. “I don’t think we would have it any other way. I think we pride ourselves on being pioneers in everything that we do, it’s how we approach life.”

Bitoy’s Bistro recently opened as a complementary offering to its more established predecessor, Bitoy’s Sweet Treats, located right across the street. Sweet Treats offers sweet items like homemade gelato while the Bistro offers more savory offerings. Bitoy-Dillion said she values creating a community atmosphere in her establishments.

She said the Bistro, so far, has been well received and is looking forward to receiving more customer feedback so that she can evolve the menu.

“We definitely have a high focus on freshness and quality, lots of gourmet items, etc.,” said Bitoy-Dillion.

John Bitoy, Layla’s father, launched his first business within the Austin community several years ago and is still active in building new businesses for his family that support the community.

“The only way we are going to get out of this situation we’re in as a community is to employ blacks and recirculate money within the black community and that’s one of the reasons we have this business here,” said Bitoy.

Bitoy said the Bistro’s customer base includes people from communities all throughout Chicago. He explained he’s conscious of the significance of having high quality dining and entertainment venues within the African American community, particularly on the West Side. 

“We don’t have bullet-proof glass; everything is wide open just like in Hyde Park,” said Bitoy. “If we could get everybody to pull down the gates and open up and see this is an open community, then we will change the community.”

Charmaine Rickett, the president of the Uncle Remus restaurant chain and chairperson of Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA), which hosts these BEER Summits regularly throughout the West Side, said the events are premised on keeping “the economic dollars flowing in our community.”

Rickett said she envisions transforming Chicago Avenue into one of Chicago’s economic drivers for African Americans.

“Chinatown, Little Italy, Pilsen, Ukraine Village, every community in just about every city will have that, but you can’t find that for African Americans anywhere, so part of Chicago Ave. is phase one of that project,” said Rickett.

AAABNA Director Malcolm Crawford explained turning Chicago Ave. into an economic driver will be accomplished by developing businesses along the street from Austin Ave. to Central Ave. in the first phase; Central Ave. to Laramie Ave. in the second; and Laramie Ave. to Cicero Ave. in the third and final phase. He said AAABNA has received support from the community as well as elected officials to move forward.