It all started with a challenge. In 2015, Toure Muhammad was asked by his friends, who had seen a list of black-owned restaurants in New York City, to come up with a similar list for Chicago. Muhammad found more than 100 and published their names on Black Chicago Eats, an online directory that he continues to manage and build on today.
"The crazy thing about it is that these restaurants were not just hidden from the mainstream," Muhammad says. "They were hidden from black people who lived around those restaurants on the South, around the West Side of Chicago."
To bring more awareness to some of these businesses, Muhammad last summer launched Taste of Black Chicago, a food festival on the South Side that featured dozens of chefs cooking up and selling their creations. Now, he's gearing up for its second iteration, set to happen on Saturday, August 18, outside Mosque Maryam at 7351 S. Stony Island. The event is free, and you can register online.
This summer's festivities will feature around ten more vendors than last year, bringing the total to about 65. Many are returning participants, including caterers Brown Sugar Bakery and Imani's Original Bean Pies, a family-run distributor of sweet pies.
"There were vendors who told me there was no way they would miss this year because they've created long-term repeat customers," Muhammad says. "People who saw them for the first time at Taste of Black Chicago and are now regular customers."
Last year's event was such a hit that some businesses sold out just a few hours. Muhammad expects Taste of Black Chicago 2018 to attract twice as many visitors, and says that chefs this year will be prepared to take on the crowds. Among the new businesses attending are Luella's Southern Kitchen, Akhirah's Pralines and Beignets, Royal Flat Carribbean Jerk Cuisine, and Soul Vegan. While there won't be any liquor available, visitors can quench their thirst by checking out vendors such as B'z Tea and New Era Chicago, which will sell all-natural lemonade.
"I wanted to create something that celebrated the incredibly diverse level and amount of black restaurants, chefs, bakers out there contributing to Chicago's world-class culinary scene," Muhammad says. "Taste of Black Chicago has helped strengthen people's beliefs that they can open up a restaurant on the South Side, and that it can be successful. People were saying, 'Okay, I can do this.'"