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Chicago’s Black-Owned Restaurants Hope to Generate $1 Million for Juneteenth

Restaurants across the city are offering specials this week to boost Black business

A large red brick building with a sign that reads “Frontier.”
Frontier is among the restaurants participating in the Juneteenth celebration.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

As Chicago is considering making Juneteenth an official city holiday, its Black-owned restaurants continue its efforts to celebrate the day and boost entrepreneurship. One such campaign emerged last year from Black People Eats, an Instagram account that actively promotes Black-owned businesses in Chicago and cities like Atlanta.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of Black enslavement that took place two months after the Civil War’s end on June 19, 1865. The city of Chicago’s calendar lists the holiday, but its workers do not get the day off. The City Council could make the holiday official at its June meeting.

Regardless of what elected officials may do, Chicago’s residents have embraced the holiday more in recent years. And that extends to businesses. For two days, from Friday, June 18 to Saturday, June 19, more than 130 Black-owned restaurants in Chicago and Atlanta will celebrate by offering specials for $6.19 or $16.19. Another component is a fundraising campaign via GoFundMe. Black Chicago Eats founder Jeremy Joyce has set up a grant program making money available for restaurant owners who need funds for their operations. This year, Joyce wants to raise $250,00 to give 10 restaurants $25,000 each.

Black-owned businesses face a series of unique challenges when it comes to securing funding with banks and real estate with developers. There’s been heightened awareness of these issues. The city even prioritized Black-owned businesses when distributing COVID-19 aid.

The full list of the restaurants from the promotion, which includes Frontier, Dock’s, 5 Loaves Eatery, Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream, Nita’s Gumbo, Home of the Hoagy, and Golden Gloves Cuisine, is available at the Black People Eats Instagram account.

Last year, as the pandemic shut down indoor dining, Black People Eats recruited more than 70 restaurants around Chicago to offer specials. As Black Lives Matter rallies were popping up in big and small cities across the country — a product of police shootings and other racial injustices — there was already a focus on supporting Black-owned businesses. Last year’s effort generated more than $500,000 in the Black communities in Chicago and Atlanta, says Joyce. The goal this year is $1 million. Restaurant owners saw their competitors enjoy success last year. The effort has grown to more than 130 restaurants in Chicago and Atlanta.

Among those participating is Darnell Reed. Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square has been a smash in hit in the neighborhood since opening in 2015. This year, Reed will offer baked mac and cheese with cajun shrimp and andouille sausage as his Juneteenth special.

Reed has suffered setbacks due to the pandemic. His Bucktown fried chicken restaurant, Luella’s Gospel Bird, was among the first restaurants to close due to a variety of factors that including COVID-19; no one knew what to expect in April 2020. But Juneteenth helped his business and brought in customers that Reed says Luella’s in Lincoln Square would never been able to reach. As Chicago repeals COVID-19 restrictions, Reed believes his restaurant’s financials are stronger than they were before in March 2020. The Juneteenth campaign has made a difference.