Several days ago the Chicago Sun Times ran an article from the Associated Press (AP) that contended that Soul Food restaurants in the city were closing because African Americans were moving out of the City of Chicago. The Soul Food restaurants in Chatham were used to prove this theory.
Duct tape covers a large crack in the premier booth at Hard Time Josephine’s Cooking, where waitresses still call you “sweetie” and customers come for the steaming shrimp bisque and homemade peach cobbler with just a hint of cinnamon.
Not so long ago, an eyesore like this at one of Chicago’s top soul food restaurants would have been unthinkable. Chicago was a bustling center of black America. And people in the neighborhoods savored Southern-style cooking.
But in the past 10 years, the city has lost more than 17 percent of its black population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And one soul food place after another has closed. The surviving few, like Josephine’s, at 436 E. 79th, are struggling.
So, in a city where Southern cooking came north in the nation’s major post-World War II migration, a tradition is dying.
“People used to stand outside the door to get in. It’s nowhere near like that,” says Josephine Wade, who has operated the restaurant in the Chatham neighborhood for more than two decades and keeps the place going by patching cracks with duct tape, disguising holes in tablecloths and washing the table linens herself. “Each year, it’s very, very difficult to be in business.”
The decline is a sign of the changing identity of a city in which blacks have been the largest racial group for decades, making up more than one-third of the population.
One of Chicago’s most popular soul food restaurants, Army & Lou’s, on East 75th Street, closed in January.
Unfortunately, the writer failed to prove the theory and a recent trip to the South Suburbs even illustrated this is not the case.
At the Sixth Ward and Concerned Citizens of Chatham Blogs the issue of restaurants have been discussed extensively by residents and restaurant professionals.
Even with the above comments, the best example is the Chatham Pancake House of Country Club Hills. The restaurant owner Leslie Noel sold his Chatham restaurant and moved to what he thought would be greener pastures in south suburban Country Club Hills. Unfortunately, the pastures were bare and even after a loan from the city of Country Club Hills, the restaurant closed. Also, the new owners of the Chatham location ran into problems with the IRS and they seized the restaurant that is now closed. Lastly, when you ride through the south suburbs, you basically find the same fast food restaurants that dot the south and west sides of Chicago.
So where did the restaurants go? Bad food, bad service and bad management= closed restaurants.