Rico Nance has been a busy man this year. The Chicago restaurateur behind Litehouse Whole Food Grill and Mikkey’s Retro Grill opened a pair of new Hyde Park restaurants in Soul Shack and Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat. Nance isn’t finished yet, as he plans to debut another Litehouse Whole Food Grill in late August at 1823 Church Street in Evanston, across the street from Evanston Township High School.
Litehouse opened in 2013 in Hyde Park and was meant to disrupt the usual fast-food glut that seems to cluster in some African-American neighborhoods. Litehouse serves healthier items like salads and wraps made with organic ingredients like grass-fed beef. It offers vegetarian items with tofu and soy, as well as jerk chicken burritos. Opening multiple locations was never Nance’s intention six years ago.
“I never really thought about it,” Nance sad. “I never was in the restaurant business. I literally was a minister by trade.”
Being a minister gave Nance community awareness, and he donates meals to the homeless and uses his restaurant space for programs including yoga, Bible studies, and poetry nights. Religion plays a large role at Litehouse, where the restaurant closes at sundown on Friday and reopens on Saturday night to observe sabbath.
The suburbs don’t have the same scale of problems as Chicago when it comes to poverty, but Nance said there’s still a void. He admitted that he thought suburban life was “peaches and cream.” But then he began speaking with Evanston community members and discovered that’s not the case. Nance hopes to give African Americans living in the suburbs, particularly youngsters, a role model by bringing a black-owned business to Evanston.
At first he wanted to open Mikkey’s, his popular burger spot that debuted in 2016 in Hyde Park. But after talking with Evanston residents, he felt Litehouse was a better fit. He also noticed that the Evanston logo features a light house. Some of Mikkey’s items, like nachos and gluten-free chicken wings, will make it over to Litehouse Evanston.
The Evanston restaurant will be run by Litehouse Hyde Park general manager Taneesha Ford. It’s the first franchise for Nance’s restaurants, and he’s proud of giving employees opportunities to grow. That’s been one of his goals as he grows his restaurant portfolio. In addition, Nance said he plans to open a location in Atlanta. That would give Nance four restaurant openings in one year; truly Melman-esque. Stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks.