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An Ex-Cop Hopes His New Deli Becomes a South Side Beacon

Mabe’s Deli is named for the owner’s 97-year-old grandmother

Mabe’s Deli is heading to Greater Grand Crossing.
Ashok Selvam

The stretch of 75th Street, just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway, is home to a cluster of dynamic restaurants. Soul Vegetarian has been a vegan oasis for decades. Chance The Rapper celebrates with Harold’s fried chicken, and 5 Loaves Eatery won the Jean Banchet award in 2017 for best ethnic restaurant. And of course, Lem’s Bar-B-Q has brought Chicago-style aquarium smokers into the public’s eye.

Right across the street from Lem’s, a first-time restaurateur wants to add to the neighborhood’s quality eats with Mabe’s Deli, hoping to give youngsters a safe space to do homework and to eventually become a community beacon.

Those are lofty goals for Derrick Rowe, a Chicago native and former Chicago police officer. Rowe was a street cop who worked the 3rd District, the same area where Mabe’s stands. He plans to open Mabe’s by the end of May at 312 E. 75th Steet. It’s named after his grandmother, 97-year-old Mae Anna Mayberry. Mayberry raised Rowe and his two sisters while his mother coped with drug addiction. When Rowe was burning out as a police officer, Mayberry pushed him toward federal work motivating him to take a job at the state’s inspector general office.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my grandmother,” Rowe said.

Rowe has since taken up real estate work and took over the 75th Street building where Mabe’s will operate. He pondered what to put inside the ground-floor retail space before settling on the deli. He gutted the 1,100-square-foot space and there’s blueprints for a couch and comfy chairs near the window with 21 seats total, including a counter. Rowe wants to build a place to give back to the community.

“I want a vibe where young and old alike can have a good, old conversation without feeling threatened,” he said.

They’ll have soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and coffee. The menu items will be named after Rowe’s family. The chicken club could be the signature item. Healthier and affordable options are often scarce in areas like Greater Grand Crossing. These are areas ignored by developers that could be vulnerable to crime. When Harold’s opened its Wicker Park location, customers noticed the restaurant the chain’s first without bulletproof glass to protect workers from armed thieves. Rowe is aware of the stigma. He doesn’t want bulletproof glass at Mabe’s, but he will have a security guard on duty: “You have to treat your customers with dignity and respect,” Rowe said.

While Rowe is accustomed to undercover work in law enforcement, operating a restaurant can be a very public ordeal. Rowe plans to hire workers from the neighborhood. While growing up near 43rd Street and Cicero Avenue, Rowe found a professional path despite neighborhood poverty and gangs. He wants to show youngsters that a path to success exists. He wants to teach employees skills which they can take with them once they leave Mabe’s.

Once they open, Rowe will bring his grandmother to his new restaurant where he’ll proudly display photos. Even though opening a restaurant is a long journey from being a street cop, at least Rowe’s familiar with the area.

Check back in the coming weeks for more updates as Mabe’s Deli prepares to open.

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