New ownership is poised to take over a venerable diner on the city’s West Side. For nearly 60 years, New Pine Valley Restaurant has provided burgers, sandwiches, and more in North Lawndale. Owner Louise Harper — known as “Momma Lue” to her customers — tells NBC Chicago that she plans on retiring from a job she’s held since 1962 when the restaurant first opened.
The restaurant will continue to operate. The tiny diner has unassuming exterior and holds importance for locals with a sign that reads “home of the $1.35 hamburger.” North Lawndale was once a vibrant center for Black businesses in Chicago. Now it’s one of the last businesses left in the area.
Harper’s mission was to provide the community cornerstone. The space has remained more or less the same through the decades. Over the years, its clientele has included President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Harper remembers waiting on Dr. King and other luminaries.
But the area has since become one of the most economically depressed areas in the city. The Tribune points out how COVID-19 and looting have disproportionately hit the community.
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Momma Lue, as she’s fondly called by almost everyone who steps into her diner, has been serving the North Lawndale community on the west side of Chicago for more than 50 years. She’s somewhat of a mother figure to residents; she feeds people like they’re her own family, and they take care of her, she said. She remembers when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still lived in the area, and he had walked into her restaurant, New Pine Valley, with his friends. “I loved it,” she said. “I loved it!” North Lawndale, which is dotted by many vacant lots and few restaurants and grocery stores, has changed over the years. And it continues to change with some investments and developments in the neighborhood. But time stood still inside New Pine Valley, said Momma Lue and people who have been working there for years, so still that the mom and pop restaurant hasn’t raised their prices for their classic cheese burgers, which are still $1.35 — a rare find in Chicago. But to many people in the neighborhood, New Pine Valley Restaurant is more than just a place to eat. It’s a place where people come together — a community. #chicago #northlawndale #portraitphotography
North Lawndale suffered following the riots in 1968 that followed King’s assassination. Chicago recalled how Mayor Richard J. Daley handled the situation by telling police “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand… to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.”
Still, New Pine Valley, 1600 S. Pulaski Road, has managed to survive, though many windows in the neighborhood remain boarded in recent times. Riots long ago moved the restaurant from its original location. But throughout the changes to the neighborhood, the restaurant has provided residents with a place for a quality meal while maintaining prices. The Trib notes that the price of a fried egg sandwich with a cup of coffee was $2.25 when the diner opened in the ‘60s. Now it’s surged to $3.
The importance of these neighborhood beacons can’t be underestimated, especially during the pandemic. Some serve as third places. Others, like New Pine Valley, are important as they lie in commercial deserts where locals have slim pickings when it comes to food options.
- Beloved Proprietor of West Side Restaurant Throws Retirement Party After Nearly 60 Years [NBC Chicago]
- ‘It’s like we’ve been living in a pandemic all along.’ COVID-19 and recent looting add to setbacks for long-neglected North Lawndale [Tribune]
- What Happened During the West Side Riots of April 1968 [Chicago]
And in other news...
— The future of Epic Burger, the mini-chain with eight locations, is in jeopardy. Crain’s reports that owner Kyle Welch has given the company back to the venture capital company. Welch couldn’t come to an agreement with the company, so the burger chain’s reverted to Boston-based Cue Ball Capital. Welch planned on opening Epic Burger locations across the Midwest, but now the chain could be wiped out. Epic Burger specializes in burgers with thin patties and shakes. The company also was one of the first to serve halal meat to broaden its appeal to more customers.
— Girl & the Goat’s Stephanie Izard will continue what’s become a recent West Loop (or Fulton Market) tradition. The esteemed chef, from October 15 to 18, will hold Harvest Fest: A Socially Distanced Celebration, touts a news release. This it the fourth year of the fall street festival. This year, they’ll make sure everyone’s masked up while adhering to the six-feet rule. Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde), Brian Jupiter (Ina Mae Tavern, Frontier), Jonathon Sawyer (Adom), Joe Flamm (Rose Mary), will all hold chef demos. They’ll also hold drink classes and tastings with folks from 3 Floyds, Solemn Oath, Moët, and Chandon. Ticketed dinners will include meals from Diana Dávila (Mi Tocaya Antojeria), Flamm, Zach Engel (Galit), and Sawyer. Izard will also get her colleagues from Boka Restaurant Group involved.
— Chicago barbecue enthusiast Gary Wiviott is back with a pop-up from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m . October 3 and 4 in suburban Niles. Wiviott, who authored Low & Slow, will smoke ribs, wings, and hot links at Wildwood Tavern, 6480 W. Touhy Avenue in Niles. Wiviott created some stellar smoked wings at Barn & Company before the Lincoln Park restaurant closed.