Our Stories

Cooking up Small Business Success in Chicago

In celebration of Small Business Saturday (Nov. 25), we're profiling emerging enterprises in the communities where we work that have benefited from LISC small business lending and support. Encouraging local entrepreneurs to realize their dreams and grow community wealth is at the heart of our mission to help people and places harness prosperity. A Chicago home-cooking restaurant (in a neighborhood where there was only fast food) kicks off our series. Dig in!

small business saturday

Evelyn Shelton wants to revitalize Washington Park one triple-chocolate-chip pancake at a time, and a substantial LISC Small Business loan is allowing her to do just that.

Shelton debuted her restaurant – Evelyn’s Food Love – this past May in Washington Park, a Chicago neighborhood that has struggled with crime, vacant lots and poverty. Residents and others have quickly embraced the new restaurant, which has a cafeteria-style setting, open seating, and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of the most popular items on her menu of time-honored comfort foods include roast chicken, fresh salads and triple-chocolate-chip pancakes covered in chocolate syrup, caramel, vanilla bean ice cream and cocoa powder.

“This area has nowhere to go but up, and Washington Park was an area where we thought we could make a difference,” said Shelton, who lives in the Bronzeville neighborhood to the north, and holds a master’s from Roosevelt University and a culinary degree from Kendall College.

Evelyn's Food Love is a rarity in the neighborhood of Garfield Boulevard and State Street - a family-style, sit-down restaurant.
Evelyn's Food Love is a rarity in the neighborhood of Garfield Boulevard and State Street - a family-style, sit-down restaurant.

LISC provided Evelyn’s Food Love a $146,800 loan through the SBA Community Advantage program, which Shelton used to purchase the building at 5522 S. State St. and make renovations. Steve Hall, vice president for LISC Small Business, said many traditional banks and lenders are reluctant to lend to first-time business owners in communities like Washington Park, and Shelton likely would not have been able to open her restaurant without LISC’s help.

“A key tenet of our economic development strategy is that power and wealth comes through ownership,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “Supporting a locally owned businesses like Evelyn's Food Love is integral to supporting the community.”

“The residents are very, very happy that we are here.”
— Evelyn Shelton, Owner, Evelyn's Food Love

Hall added: “Many of our customers depend on technical assistance from LISC Small Business and, without that assistance, they wouldn’t qualify for a loan anywhere except from predatory lenders.” Washington Park might not seem like an obvious choice for a new business to put down roots. But the neighborhood also has a rich history, residents hungry for new local options, and community organizations eager to attract more businesses, better housing and other community services.

Shelton said longtime Washington Park residents often tell her about the neighborhood’s vibrant past, when places like Club DeLisa, a legendary nightclub and music venue from the 1930s into the 1950s, made this part of State Street a South Side destination. They’re glad to have a non-fast food restaurant nearby and have made Evelyn’s Food Love a community gathering spot. “The residents are very, very happy that we are here, and we are happy to be a part of the positive change that we think is inevitable for this neighborhood,” Shelton said.

The restaurant not only brings home-cooked food to a corner of Washington Park, but also an opportunity for employment. Shelton and one of her employees prepare for the lunch crowd.
The restaurant not only brings home-cooked food to a corner of Washington Park, but also an opportunity for employment. Shelton and one of her employees prepare for the lunch crowd.

Hall noted that most lending institutuions might have rejected Shelton's application for other reasons, too. Her loan is too small, and her plans might seem to risky. But she represents precisely the kind of customer LISC Small Business serves: people of color, women, veterans and people who live in low-to-moderate income areas.

“I understand [Evelyn] from a banker’s perspective and from a community perspective,” Hall said. “Evelyn’s community, that is my community – where it is often tough to attract traditional lenders and investors.”

“At LISC, we do loans that banks traditionally would not do,” said Hall, noting that LISC Small Business loans of up to $250,000 are offered for startup businesses and business expansions in communities that are underbanked. “We try to fill a gap where LISC gives them the initial capital to get started, but we want them to graduate so they can access conventional loans in the future.”

Small Business Saturday, which takes place Nov. 25, is one of the few times all year when businesses like Shelton’s get the attention they deserve.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” Shelton said. “LISC really helped us do this. They told me that I was their mission statement, and this is why they existed..."
“We’re excited about the possibilities,” Shelton said. “LISC really helped us do this. They told me that I was their mission statement, and this is why they existed..."

“Small Business Saturday was started to really push these mom and pop stores,” Hall said. “These businesses need local support to survive.”

Shelton said LISC has been “a great partner for us.” She’s hoping to expand her restaurant by adding a backyard patio and purchasing a vacant lot next door, where she could add a smoker or venue for live entertainment.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” Shelton said. “LISC really helped us do this. They told me that I was their mission statement, and this is why they existed – to help businesses like mine that could not otherwise receive loans. They worked really, really hard to make this happen, and everybody was invested. And now, look, it’s happened.”

For more information on LISC Small Business, visit liscsmallbusiness.org.

Related:

ABC7 Chicago's Hungry Hound goes to Evelyn's

Washington Park restaurant brings home cooking to neighborhood with huge menu.

Watch the Video
Wintrust Business Lunch on WGN Radio 720

Evelyn Shelton joins Steve Bertrand in the studio to talk about homecooked food in Washington Park.

Listen to the conversation