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A Chicago Food Desert Will Soon Welcome Its Only Sit-Down Restaurant

Washburne Culinary Institute’s student-led restaurant, Sikia, has been closed for three years in Englewood

A restaurant dining room with white tablecloths.
Student-run Sikia, pictured before its renovations, will undergo a makeover in Englewood.
City Colleges of Chicago

Three and a half years have passed since Englewood residents on Chicago’s South Side lost their only sit-down restaurant. Sikia, an upscale lunch spot with white tablecloths and a rotating menu, closed with the onset of the pandemic, leaving a void in an area otherwise populated by fast food. The 12-year-old restaurant’s closure was also a loss for the students who ran it through Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute at Kennedy-King College.

Sikia, which has sat in stasis since March 2020, is on track to reopen in fall 2024 with a fresh design thanks to $500,000 from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. The money is from a $5 million grant to the college. The immense task of putting grant funds to use lies in the hands of Jewel Mideau, an Arizona transplant who on July 3 took over as executive dean at Washburne.

“As someone who’s not native to Chicago and being able to see [Sikia] with a fresh pair of eyes, I don’t know that people really understand what they have here,” says Mideau.

The project is “a significant deal — not just as an opportunity for [neighbors] to come and dine, but for our students to learn the art of service in the front of house, learn how to cook, how to lead, and how to be entrepreneurs.”

Those lessons are already underway as Washburne students immerse themselves in the details of a restaurant opening: conceptualizing menus, picking out plates, and navigating ADA guidelines. Previously the director of hospitality leadership at Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona, Mideau says she feels strongly about making sure culinary students graduate with a realistic understanding of what it takes to open a hospitality business so they won’t take on unnecessary debt.

“[The students are] finding it is much more difficult than they thought,” she says. “That’s the point. We teach them how to be aware of this before they start taking out business loans.”

The challenges don’t stop there. Mideau is also implementing what she terms a “no-concept menu.” That means students will pitch menus for holidays and heritage months, implement their vision from start to finish, and receive customer feedback. The approach draws on Mideau’s view that the students are artists who will benefit from creative experimentation in a fail-proof environment. They’ll design seasonal menus between these projects, return to a three-day-a-week lunch service, and add two new days of dinner.

Sikia debuted in 2008 and its 4,000-square-foot space and the facelift and new art and furniture will make the 70-seat dining room brighter and more modern. Instead of hiring a design firm, Mideau sought opinions from students, alumni, community members, and college staff. On Wednesday, November 15, she’ll host a luncheon where these groups will see renderings and share their thoughts.

“We want our community members to be able to see the restaurant differently,” she says. “We’re going to refresh it, give it some love and light, and give it back to Englewood.”