Wisconsin-based fast food chain Culver’s is courting plenty of buzz as it prepares to debut a new location next week in the far South Side neighborhood of Pullman, touting itself as the first “stand-alone and casual sit-down dining establishment in the area in more than 30 years.” But as the Midwestern chain gears up to start slinging ButterBurgers and frozen custard, a Pullman chef and restaurateur feels it’s important to clarify the record when it comes dining options in the neighborhood.
Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, co-owner of vegan restaurant Majani, operates three locations, including one inside Pullman’s One Eleven Food Hall. While the food hall is not technically “stand alone” — it’s in a strip mall near the corner of 111th Street and Doty Avenue — it’s housed three independent Black-owned restaurants since its launch in 2019. Current vendors also include barbecue hit Lexington Betty Smokehouse from pit master Dominque Leach (Spiaggia) and coffee and tea shop AndySunflower Cafe.
For Emmanuel, the oversight is a symptom of a larger struggle for visibility among indie businesses in the area. “If you get off the expressway and look down 111th Street, you’ll see signage for Culver’s and Potbelly, signage for Walmart, but you hardly notice anything about One Eleven or Majani,” he says. “We don’t have advertising dollars that Culver’s and Potbelly’s has. The red carpet has been rolled out for the national brands.”
Pandemic recovery has been slow at One Eleven and it’s been a difficult season overall, Emmanuel says. Though the lag is disappointing, he’s noticed that Majani tends to be the busiest One Eleven vendors and he’s grateful for the devoted diners who keep coming back. He’s also played around with fast food culture before, weighing in on the 2019 frenzy surrounding Popeyes spicy fried chicken sandwich with his own vegan version doctored cup with chipotle and green sauces.
The new Culver’s outpost, slated to open Monday at 11050 S. Doty Avenue, will be the sixth location from Baron Waller, the chain’s largest minority franchise owner. Though the businesses could be seen as David-versus-Goliath, Emmanuel is welcoming Culver’s to the community and believes there is room for both of them to thrive in the neighborhood.
Culver’s and One Eleven are both projects from Community Neighborhood Initiatives. CNI is a group the cultivates real estate and economic resources to revitalize low- to moderate-income communities. Pullman is one of the group’s main focuses, believing the success of One Eleven and Culver’s are intermingled; many Chicago restaurant owners root for the success of nearby competitors believing they can convert frequent visitors to an area into future customers.
“There really is a deficit [in Pullman] in terms of places to take your family to feel comfortable and be treated well,” he says. “Having a critical mass is good for everyone. If we can get diners in the area more often, that’s an advantage for all of us.”