The team behind Englewood Connect hopes that the $10.3 million dollar development will have a transformative effect on the South Side neighborhood using food and culinary entrepreneurship as a core component. The project includes licensed commercial kitchens that provide a mini food hall vibe at the once vacant parcel of land on the 800 block of West 63rd Street.
Englewood Connect board member David Blackmon will also operate his own cafe inside the space. But he’ll oversee more than food and describes his portion of the project as an incubator where business owners can make food and retail items like beauty products. He wants to give potential entrepreneurs a chance to learn about the complexities of ownership without taking on too much overhead, and plans to help locals apply for small business loans and grants so they can grow their brand. They’ll be able to serve food out of refurbished shipping containers arranged inside the space.
“My passion is to get youth involved in the industry,” says Blackmon. “If you have a dream, I’ll find any way I can to help make your dream a reality.”
Blackmon is a chef and local industry veteran who’s worked at Blu 47 in Bronzeville and Butterfield 8 in River North. He’s also a board member at the Hatchery, the non-profit food business incubator in Garfield Park. Details in Englewood are still being unfurled, but Blackmon plans to bring similar resources and support to budding chefs and restaurateurs in Englewood, Woodlawn, and Chatham.
Black chefs in Chicago and across the country have long faced challenges due to a lack of access to capital, resources, and mentorship that’s available to many of their white peers. There’s also a problem with media exposure. As a Black chef and former Englewood resident, Blackmon wants to provide support and a stage for up-and-comers in the area to show off their skills and range.
“I’m hoping this will be something that will help the industry see that we’re here, and we’re not just cooking Southern food all the time,” he says. “This is an opportunity to show that we’ve got our own people.”
Blackmon also plans to create a counsel of residents to advise him on his cafe’s menu. While he wants to serve the foods the community is looking for, he’s already casting an eye toward international cuisine that draws on the Caribbean, African, and Central American roots of many neighborhood locals. He sees his cafe as an alternative to fast food: “I think we’ve got enough of that in Englewood,” he says.
Other proposed components of Englewood Connect include a public space called the Green Street Commons, a year-round pavilion with retractable doors and windows, and the restoration of a 92-year-old firehouse on Green Street. The historic building is a protected city landmark, so architects will use adaptive reuse — a preservation process that repurposes an existing building for new use — to transform it into a multi-use venue for the community.
The project is part of the city’s INVEST South/West initiative that’s designed to bring investments to historically neglected and disenfranchised neighborhoods. It’s touted as the next phase of shopping development Englewood Square — a 2016 project that brought a Whole Foods market and other retailers to a historic district at 63rd and Halsted. Local real estate developers McLaurin Development Partners and Farpoint Development are leading the endeavor, with architecture firms TnS Studio and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill collaborating on the design.
Project leadership hasn’t yet announced an opening timeline, but Blackmon anticipates that it will take 18 months to two years if the process go smoothly.
Urbanize first reported news of the development plans.
Englewood Connect, 800 block of West 63rd Street, Scheduled opening date is not yet known.