A soul food fusion restaurant opening in North Lawndale will bring an upscale yet affordable dining experience not yet offered in the neighborhood, its leaders say.
Soul Food Lounge is being launched in partnership between Chef Quentin Love, the culinary mastermind of Turkey Chop in West Humboldt Park, and the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.
It will open in May at 3804 W. 16th St. on the ground floor of the MLK Legacy Apartments, a mixed-use affordable housing and commercial building at the site where Martin Luther King Jr. lived during his campaign against redlining in Chicago in 1966.
Soul Food Lounge will begin to satiate the demand for a sit-down eatery in North Lawndale so residents will no longer have to leave their neighborhood to have that kind of culinary experience, Love said.
“We can really create a great dining experience for those in the community where people will also look at it as a destination spot,” Love said. “If you can get quality businesses and experiences in the community where you sleep in, you will want to stay there versus always leaving the community. You can have great experiences in your own backyard.”
The restaurant specializes in soul fusion, which uses traditional Southern cuisine as a starting point for introducing foodies to unfamiliar flavors from Italian, Asian and Latin cuisines, Love said.
“I’m gonna meet you where you at, but let me show you something else while you’re here. It’s not just mac and cheese; it’s truffle mac and cheese. It’s Southern fried pork chops with a sweet and spicy glaze inspired by Asian flavors,” Love said.
Bringing quality dining experiences to 16th Street, which was historically an economic center in the neighborhood, has been a goal for Lawndale Christian Development Corporation for several years. The group has long spearheaded efforts to create affordable housing and homeownership opportunities in the neighborhood.
When Lawndale Christian Development Corporation built the MLK Legacy Apartments, its plan was for the building to “play a part in redeveloping Lawndale’s economic base,” Deputy Director Whittney Smith said.
The organization’s leaders wanted to ensure community partners took over the ground-floor commercial spaces to strengthen the local economy and offer services and experiences to make Lawndale a place where people who grew up there would want to stay. Already in the building is a community wellness center run by St. Anthony Hospital and the MLK Exhibit Center, an event space and cultural attraction that highlights King’s work in Chicago.
A restaurant will further improve the offerings in the area by giving residents a place in their own neighborhood to sit down and share a meal, Smith said.
“A system of restaurants and bars and neighborhood eateries, that’s the way we complement our housing work, our organizing work,” Smith said. “This is a space that will accommodate you and your growing family, your needs and your desire for community.”
Having a range of options for dining and other basic services isn’t just a nice perk, Love said.
“This stuff is what everyone deserves in every community,” Love said.
The team that brought Soul Food Lounge to life was intentional about creating a restaurant where every element reflected the tastes, the history and culture of the surrounding community, Smith said. With many in the area sharing Southern roots, soul food is a powerful way of “speaking to the cultural context of our legacy residents,” Smith said.
The design of the restaurant also reflects the neighborhood’s cultural identity, including King’s history at the location. The walls incorporate a mural that “commemorates African-American music, jazz and history,” Smith said.
“The aim was to center it in Black culture and Black life in a way that elevates the experience of folks walking in, and transports them into this luxurious environment, because Lawndale can be that, too,” Smith said.
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