While upcoming food halls in the West Loop and Fulton Market are marketing their spaces as all-encompassing Chicago culinary experiences under one roof, One Eleven Food Hall — debuting this week on the South Side — doesn’t have to worry about that type of marketing. One Eleven is a bet that people will need a place to eat after developers build out the surrounding areas near the state’s first national monument in Pullman. It’s been undergoing a renovation that could help transform the neighborhood.
One Eleven, 756 E. 111th Street, is smaller than Chicago’s other food halls and features three restaurants: Majani, Laine’s Bake Shop, and Exquisite Catering. All three are black owned with Laine’s and Exquisite owned by black women. Contrast that with the three upcoming North Side food halls, Fulton Galley (five vendors), Politan Hall (12 vendors), and Time Out Market (18 vendors). Time Out and Politan are still rolling out vendor news, but of the 24 announced between the three halls, there are zero African-American chefs.
Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives is the not for profit behind the food hall. Organization president David Doig talked about how a lack of access to capital has prevented African-Americans entrepreneurs from growing their businesses compared to their white and Asian counterparts that can often benefit from wealthy family members. CNI sought to break down those barriers when recruiting chefs to come to One Eleven.
Doig said that other groups have the luxury of ““pooling their money together” to fund projects for friends and family. He hopes CNI could help provide access to capital for African-American chefs and serve the same purpose
One Eleven is an incubator with room for three vendors. One of those chefs is Tiffany Mone’t Williams. She’s a native of Woodlawn and started Exquisite Catering in 2017. She’s developed her own network after culinary school, working at places like the Goddess Rocks!, the catering spinoff from Debbie Sharpe’s the Goddess & the Grocer.
Exquisite’s signature item maybe its six-hour braised barbecue brisket. It’s served with espresso barbecue sauce and caramelized onions on pretzel roll. Then there’s the “Dopest Mac and Cheese.” Williams hopes it will become a contender for the best in the city. It’s a four-cheese blend with trottole pasta: “That’s not normally seen on the South Side,” Williams said. Customers can add applewood-smoked bacon, chicken tinga, or brisket.
Williams would love to open a restaurant in Woodlawn while One Eleven staff would prefer if she stayed in Pullman, perhaps in one of the soon-to-be erected buildings nearby. But no matter what, Williams wants to seize the opportunity to serve South Siders foods they haven’t had a chance to try. She remembers her mom feeding her spaghetti, tacos, and pizza, chicken, ground meat. Those were the only five things she ate growing up. She didn’t learn about items like tofu until later in life. Williams tries to push it forward by teaching cooking classes in Arlington Heights to former inmates as they return to society after incarceration. For example, she introduces her students to the joy of Brussel’s sprouts with bacon.
Having a place in the food hall gives her access to equipment. And from a business standpoint it will help in narrowing down her menu. It also gives her the opportunity to experiment.
“I can be edgy with my food,” she said. “I don’t have to stay in the norm.”
Williams is excited to collaborate with Laine’s Bake Shop’s Rachel Bernier-Green. The two will be open early for breakfast. Majani co-owners Tsadakeeyah and Nasya Emmanuel are known for their vegan food at their South Shore restaurant. Tenants signed two-year agreements and Calibrate Coaching, a consulting firm, will be available for support during the duration of their stay.
The saga behind the restoration of the monument is lengthy. It dates back to 2015 when then-President Obama kickstarted efforts to make part of the area Illinois’s first national monument. There’s massive empty parcels surrounding the three-unit strip mall where One Eleven stands. It’s already occupied by a Potbelly Sandwich Shop and a Blue Cross Blue Shield center. Originally Chipotle was supposed to occupy One Eleven’s parcel, but following the E. coli outbreak of 2015 that caused sagging sales, the burrito specialists pulled out of Pullman. CNI pivoted with the help of James Gray, founder of Calibrate, toward creating a space with more local flavor.
One Eleven should open this week, it’s one of the most anticipated openings of spring. Check back later for more coverage.