Soulé, the West Town soul food restaurant that has, since it opened in 2017, become as known for its celebrity visitors as for its wings, grits, and fried catfish, will be expanding to a second location later this summer, not near downtown, but in North Lawndale, where chef and owner Bridgette Flagg grew up.
“It’s my neighborhood,” Flagg says, “and they deserve it. This will be the first sit-down restaurant with a bar in 50 years.”
The new restaurant, known as Soulé 2, will be built from the ground up. Originally, Flagg was going to convert an old church, but the building was unstable, so she decided to start from scratch with new construction. The crew broke ground in January and expect to finish sometime in the summer. “They’re saying May,” Flagg says, “but I’m saying July.” Soulé 2 will be three times the size of the original, with seating for 100, plus a bar (the original is BYOB) and a deck, and also new construction on the lot next door.
The kitchen will continue to serve the same soul food that Soulé is known for — and which earned it a place on the Eater 38 and Michelin Bib Gourmand lists — but expanded. The meat on Soulé’s menu is currently limited to chicken, fish, and lamb chops, but at Soulé 2, Flagg plans to add beef — oxtails and short ribs — though she will continue to avoid cooking with pork.
Flagg is confident her celebrity clientele will follow her to the West Side. “When I go out of town,” she says, “I like to go into urban areas to find a soul food restaurant. It shouldn’t be a problem getting them down there.” In preparation, she’s building a mezzanine for private dining.
But Soulé 2 is mostly for the residents of North Lawndale. The construction itself, predicted to cost $600,000, is funded by grants from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and community groups in North Lawndale, as well as $150,000 out of Flagg’s own pocket. Once open, Flagg plans to hire cooks and servers from the neighborhood, adding a total of 60 new jobs. She’s made a practice of hiring young men who have been in trouble with the law in order to give them a second chance, and she plans to continue that at the new space.
“I want to help my community out,” she says. “I want to take these guys off the street and give them an opportunity.”
North Lawndale, Flagg notes, is a food desert. Most of the restaurants on the stretch of Roosevelt Road where Soulé 2 is going up offer only fast food or takeout. There’s just one grocery store in the neighborhood, though the community groups that helped fund the restaurant are also helping the store pay for a remodel.
“My plan is to inspire more people to come in and help build this community up,” Flagg says. “Hopefully someone else will see and say, ‘Look, she’s doing her thing, she came back home.’”
Soulé 2, 3615 W. Roosevelt Road, Scheduled to open late summer, 2022.