February 20th, 2018 12:48 PM
AT THE TABLE: Joe Black, right, and his wife, Tonya, who serves as LiFE's head chef, inside of LiFE restaurant as customers stop by during Chicago Black Restaurant Week. | IGOR STUDENKOV/Contributor
For the past three years, Chicago Black Restaurant Week has spotlighted African-American-owned eateries throughout the city and its suburbs.
But this year marked the first time a West Side business took part in the event, held Feb. 11 through Feb. 17, and the participant was a relative newcomer — LiFE restaurant, which has been open in West Garfield Park, at 3858 W. Madison St., for less than a year. Owner Joe Black said that participating in the event increased his customer base.
Black founded LiFe Restaurant to provide more healthy choices in the community. In the months since, the response has been even more positive than he had hoped. As the first anniversary approaches, Black is looking to add sit-down dining and offer free poetry open mics and musical programming to allow local people more opportunities to showcase their talents.
Chicago Black Restaurant Week was founded by Chicago PR professional Lauran Smith. By that point, Choose Chicago, the City of Chicago's official marketing organization, had already been doing Chicago Restaurant Week for eight years. The event was designed to bring attention to restaurants throughout the city, with participants offering special deals.
Smith wanted to do something that focused on black-owned restaurants in particular. During a recent interview, she said that she hopes to spotlight "hidden gems" throughout the city and to help the communities where those gems are located.
"Our main goal is to rebuild and restore our communities, and CBRW is one small step in that direction," Smith said.
The business week is open to all black-owned restaurants located in the city and the suburbs, although Smith emphasized that this doesn't include Indiana cities near the Chicago border. The applicants must fill out an application and Smith's organization checks to make sure the applicant really is black-owned.
"We have not only been able to successfully bring about more visibility to black owned food and beverage businesses, but we have also been told of an increase in revenue to those businesses, as well as the need to hire additional employees," she said.
Black said that his friends told him about the business week event and encouraged him to apply. All participants are encouraged to offer specials, and LiFE's discounted offerings included a shrimp Po Boy sandwich with drips and a drink for $9.18 and a Santa Fe salad with chicken for $8.18, among others.
Black said that, as of Feb. 15, the event brought in decent crowds. He was especially pleased to see how many people came from outside West Garfield Park.
"It has been bringing in lots of people, and a lot of people said we didn't know we were there," Black said.
"We got people coming in from the South Side, from 100th street [and further south], which doesn't usually happen, because, you know, South Side people don't usually come to the West Side and West Side people don't usually come to the South Side," he added. "It's a good thing, everybody coming together, participating in life and food and all the good things."
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