Soule, which moved to a larger space in January in North Lawndale, is this week returning to West Town with a few tweaks and a new name.
“We can’t wait to feast with them,” says chef and owner Bridgette Flagg.
Flagg didn’t want the same vibe at both her restaurants, so there will be changes including a BYO bartender who will mix cocktails using liquor that customers provide. On Friday, August 3, Flagg will unveil Soule to Soule (pronounced “soul to soul”) at 1931 W. Chicago Avenue. Fans will see new decor after the space underwent a remodel.
While she’s not banning mobile phones, Flagg says the restaurant will have boxes where customers can keep them out of the way so their focus will be on socializing face-to-face. No one will be scorned for using their phones — customers are still free to take photos of food for their social media accounts.
“I just think people want an experience,” Flagg says. “I feel — honestly — mental health is at an all-time high. These days the world is moving so fast.”
Smartphones can lead to anxiety, a reason many elect to turn off notifications or reduce them. Fewer folks live in the present and Flagg says she wants to give customers a place to do that. Little gestures like placing conversation cars on tables can change the atmosphere. She also wants to host discussions on occasion which may allow strangers who only know each other via social media to become friends in real life.
The original Soule opened in 2017, and Flagg charmed the area with delicious chicken wings, shrimp and grits, and more. It became a successful and welcoming restaurant that drew Black customers to a Black-owned business in an area that didn’t have many businesses that did that. It also became a celebrity magnet for musicians and professional basketball players. It was so busy that the casual spot that Flagg envisioned started needing reservations. Flagg closed the restaurant in December as she unveiled her new location.
During the last eight months, she’s brainstormed on how to use the West Town space. “Vibe” is often a cliched term, one that gets tossed around without thought. Some diners may take it as a sign of putting style above substance. But “vibe” is essential to the Soule experience, to create a bright, open space where diners can socialize and be boisterous if they want.
The new menu is mostly a collection of Soule’s greatest hits and small plates. There are more vegetarian options, including spicy fried Buffalo cauliflower. Shrimp and grits has been replaced by fish in grits. There are also new catfish sliders.
The drink section is where it gets interesting. Soule 2 Soule doesn’t have a liquor license, but will employ a bartender, Flagg says. The idea is for customers to bring their own Hennessy cognac or other liquor. They’ll tell the bartender what they want to drink and then the bartender will get work using a stocked bar of mixers. “You want a sidecar?” Flagg says. “We’ll get you as close to a sidecar as we can.”
Flagg says business is booming at the new Soule where she’s shattering stereo. NBA and WNBA players are among her customers that continue to give Flagg’s vivacious brand recognition. Flagg grew up near the restaurant and was happy to open up a sit-down restaurant that serves cocktails in an underserved neighborhood. Still, West Town will always hold a special place for Bridgette Flagg and Soule.
“It’s my baby,” Flagg says of the West Town space. “I’m not ever giving it up.”
Soule to Soule, 1931 W. Chicago Avenue, opening Friday, August 3.