Cake, cobbler and cocktails: Chicago’s black-owned businesses gear up for Juneteenth | Illinois

On June 19, Stephanie Hart will serve a decadent depiction of the African-American flag: a green, black and red velvet cake frosted with green cream cheese and drizzled with dark chocolate dyed black with food coloring.

“Red is the people, the blood of the people, black is the skin of the people, and green is the soil of the people,” explained Hart, the owner of Park Manor’s beloved Brown Sugar Bakery.

The bakery has already sold more than 1,000 slices of cake, dubbed Heritage Cake, for pre-order. Brown Sugar Bakery will also serve an apple cobbler for the holiday, and Hart is also working on a holiday candy. Walk-in visitors will be able to purchase sweet treats at the East 75th Street Bakery location and its new space on Navy Pier.

Across Chicago, black small business owners are gearing up to mark June 19 with festive food and drink, events and acts of service. The holiday commemorates the day June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to tell enslaved black Americans they were free – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Black Americans in parts of the United States have long celebrated Juneteenth; Texas was the first state to officially recognize the holiday, in 1980. But last year marked the first time Juneteenth was recognized as both a federal holiday and an official state holiday in Illinois. .

For Hart, Juneteenth is a time to celebrate how far black Americans have come in the nearly 150 years since June 19, 1865.

“When people talk about things like why repairs are important or accommodations. We just got released,” Hart said. “There weren’t 40 acres and a mule. And everything we did is what I celebrate.

Brown Sugar Bakery’s holiday specials are part of a larger Juneteenth campaign created by Black People Eats’ Jeremy Joyce, which is dedicated to promoting black-owned restaurants. 50 restaurants across Chicago plan to participate in the Juneteenth Restaurant Festival this year, cooking up holiday specials priced at $6.19, $16.19 or $26.19. Last year, Joyce said, the event brought in $1 million for black-owned businesses nationwide. Joyce first got the idea for the event from a conversation with Vanetta Roy of Surf’s Up, the Chicago-based seafood restaurant. (Roy’s June 19 specials for this year were still in the works, but she said they would center on wings and shrimp.)

“For us, it’s a celebration of all the good things, all the hard work and sacrifice,” said Nataki Muhammad, co-owner of Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream in Bronzeville with her husband, Yahya. For their Juneteenth special, the Muhammads will be handing out servings of trendy peach mini cobbler.

The Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery in Wicker Park will allow Chicago public school students to choose free books at a #ClearTheShelves event on June 18, hosted by the bookstore’s nonprofit arm, Parenthesis. Juneteenth recommendation from owner DL Mullen: “Last Summer on State Street” by Chicago author Toya Wolfe, which was released on Tuesday. (Wolfe’s novel tells the “very true-to-life” story of a young black girl growing up in the Robert Taylor Homes, Mullen said.) Schoolchildren can pre-register for the event on the website of the library.

And at Nobody’s Darling, Andersonville’s queer bar recently named a James Beard finalist, patrons can choose from two June 19 cocktails made with black-owned liquor: Giovanni’s Room, a whiskey-based drink named after after James Baldwin’s 1956 novel, and Blacker the Berry, a vodka-based cocktail made with blackberry liqueur and basil. Giovanni’s Room is already on the menu at Nobody’s Darling; Blacker the Berry is a new creation, said co-owner Renauda Riddle.

Juneteenth, of course, falls in the middle of Pride month. It adds another layer of meaning to the day at Nobody’s Darling, Riddle said.

“It celebrates who we are,” she said. “We are queer, and we are also African American women. And so it speaks to those two things that we are proud of and celebrate, in fact, 365 days a year.

Over the past few years, as national interest in Juneteenth has grown, more and more large corporations have attempted to participate in the holiday. Some have made missteps. Walmart, for example, recently pulled a June 19-themed ice cream from its shelves after coming under fire for trying to cash in on the holiday with a product some have described as tone-deaf. The company apologized in a statement at the time.

Chicago small business owners said Walmart could have looked for ways to support black entrepreneurs instead — by bringing more products made by black-owned businesses to its shelves, for example, or by creating funds scholarships.

“Walmart doesn’t feed the African American business economy, and I think that stinks,” Hart said.

Still, businesses acknowledging Juneteenth can be beneficial because it educates consumers about black history, Riddle said.

“You still have the reality that we live in a very capitalist American society,” she said. “Any time we’re able to really get people to understand our story, it’s really positive.”

In Illinois, Black-owned businesses employ more than 175,000 residents and generate $8 billion in economic activity each year, according to data released in February by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Activity. State.

Chicago business leaders have emphasized the importance of small businesses to the social fabric and economic health of their neighborhoods.

“Most business owners live in the community, they spend their money in the community and that helps keep the dollar flowing,” said Tonya Trice, CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. “It’s also important that community residents have other retail options so they don’t take their money out of the community.”

Over the weekend of June 19, the South Shore Chamber will host a small business shopping event Saturday and Sunday at The Artisan Collective on 71st Street with approximately 15 local vendors, some of whom do not have their own brick-and-mortar stores, Trice said. . The event will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said.

Similar events are taking place across the city: The Chatham Business Association will hold workshops for small business owners at the Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center on Friday, President Melinda Kelly said. Also on Friday, Refine Collective will partner with the Museum of Contemporary Art to hold a Juneteenth Freedom Market at the museum. More than 50 local black-owned businesses will set up shop at the cash event, which will also feature a DJ and a cash bar, said Refine Collective founder and CEO IB Majekodunmi.

Small businesses are the backbone of their communities, many Chicago small business leaders said. And at a time when many small businesses have been hit harder than larger ones by issues like inflation and supply chain issues, they need support.

“It’s not just a business. It’s so much more for us, because that’s what our community deserves,” Muhammad said. “Every community deserves to have great businesses, well-run businesses, and businesses where the owners are willing to give back to the community.”

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