Restaurants and Politics; Why is There Such a Disconnect

Restaurants and Politics; Why is There Such a Disconnect

Army and lou's

The Chatham community has been the home of Pan African cuisine for many years. Starting out with Soul Food restaurants such as Izola's and Army & Lou's and progressing to the Carribean with Cafe Trinidad and back to the motherland Africa with Yassa. So when Izola's closed in 2011 and then Army & Lou's red flags went up all over the community. These restaurants have been the hangouts for some of the top African American politicians and been visited by top politicians such as the mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

With Izola's, the founder and owner Izola White was in failing health and had no successor in place and had to shut the doors. Army & Lou's suffered the change in ownership dilemma, whereas customers feel that quality and service decline when ownership changes. The issue of the restaurants closing was discussed at The Sixth Ward Blog and I came under fire for making the following comment

If Mr. F is still around I have a question for him. Are there resources available to help restaurant operators when they have problems? Or do you have to wait for a Gordon Ramsey or Robert Irvine TV show for assistance?

I ask because quite a bit of taxpayer money has been invested in KKC-Washburne and we have several officers of the Illinois Restaurant Association doing business in our community.

I hope that the culinary schools are doing more than training cooks.

My purpose was not to be sarcastic but rather understand the issue. Chatham is only a couple of miles away from one of the best Business Schools in the country University of Chicago, a stones throw away from the Small Business Development Center at Chicago State University and a couple of miles away from one of the oldest culinary schools in the country Washburne Culinary. The response was as follows

Our issue is not the general operations of the business but mainly economics. I love Gordon Ramsey and in the past he has approched Ms. R to do his show, but she declined. I'm of the same mind set because I've seen his show and it wouldn't at the end of the day be the "best" move for us. We have an excellent business plan that several banks and the SBA have looked at and like very much. The issue seems to be lending money in the restaurant industry. Banks are extremely hesitant to put investment dollars into the industry. At least that what the banks tell me. We are currently searching for private investors and partnerships with different universities like KKC, CSU, and Depaul.

While I had some issues with the answer, I recently came to understand that the owners did not have too many options and what would seem to be the obvious place to go for help wasn't really interested. The most obvious place Washburne Culinary Institute at Kennedy King College. I've criticized Kennedy King College as being nothing more than a glorified high school and a waste of taxpayers money especially the building of a restaurant and state of the art wine cellar and tasting room. The Sekia restaurant and the wine cellar tasting room are in a dry community meaning no alcohol can be served. This makes it a hard sell to entice someone to spend an evening in that area and not be able to have a drink unless you go out to the local liquor store. In a recent New York Times article, a former student eluded that the southside of Chicago was a dead zone for fine dining.

After reading the article and looking at the restaurant the subject of the article wrote I questioned what was being taught at the school. Most recently another article basically answered the question, it appeared that the school was running with no clear defined plan and not offering a competitive curriculum. So this is why restaurants like Army & Lou's had to close versus if they were on the northside schools such as CHIC and Kendall College would have been available to offer technical assistance. But, what is more bothersome is that both Army & Lou's and Izola's were hangouts for top African American politicians and no one was ever able to connect the dots. A mediocre culinary arts school and failing restaurants could help each other. So while the City Colleges of Chicago throws more taxpayers money trying to fix Washburne the restaurants are still closed.


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  • Worlee:

    I work at City Colleges and was disappointed to read about your characterization of the Washburne Culinary Institute. Washburne attracts students from around the city because of the high caliber of its culinary program. The Tribune article you reference notes that Washburne alums go on to work in top Chicago restaurants and many others open their own restaurants or catering businesses. Moreover, the Parrot Cage Restaurant, a part of Washburne, has won Best Brunch from the website the last two years running. We would be happy to meet with you to talk about your concerns and show you all that Kennedy-King and Washburne have to offer. Let us know if that interests you. Take care, Katheryn

  • The Parrot Cage has decent service and as you stated good for brunch. What about Sekia? A lot of tax dollars went into building that restaurant and related facilities. Great education and no placement office? Every proprietary school has one(i.e. Art Institutes,etc). Why not Washburne? What percentages are actually working in the industry, 1, 5,10 years after graduation?

    I have no problem meeting with representatives of Washburne.

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