Culver’s opens in Pullman; continues community’s ‘renaissance’

Culver’s has become Pullman’s first stand-alone restaurant in more than 30 years. Its grand opening on Monday saw nearly 50 people gathered in celebration.

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The new Culver’s on the corner of E 111th St and Doty Avenue in Pullman.

The new Culver’s at East 111th St and Doty Avenue in Pullman is just off the Bishop Ford Expressway.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Maddox Walton’s favorite meal is a Butterburger topped with ketchup, mustard, lettuce and a side of fries from Culver’s. The 8-year-old likes to top it all off with a frozen custard sundae, with sprinkles. 

But since Maddox and his mom Meagan McNeal moved to Pullman two years ago, getting his favorite meal hasn’t been easy. 

“When we moved here, there was nothing,” said McNeal, 35. “We always had to drive to Bronzeville or Evergreen [Park] or Crestwood.”

But on Monday, Maddox was one of the first to place an order at a new Culver’s at 111th Street and Doty Avenue, right off the Bishop Ford Expressway.

Before the new Culver’s came in, McNeal and Maddox would frequent nearby restaurants, including the Potbelly in the food hall at the other side of the parking lot.

Maddox Walton, 8, lists off his favorite meal at Culver’s during the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony as his mom, Meagan McNeal watches, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Maddox Walton, 8, lists off his favorite meal at Culver’s during Monday’s grand opening and ribbon cutting. With him is his mom, Meagan McNeal.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

But they noticed the construction at the Culver’s site, and continued to keep tabs as the 4,300-square-foot restaurant was built. 

“I legitimately cannot tell you how excited we have been as we’ve driven back and forth going home and as they would add the sign or the parking blocks,” said McNeal. 

Finally, one day Maddox came home, bursting with excitement, rushed up to her and said, “The menu is up!”

This is owner/operator Baron Waller’s sixth Culver’s restaurant — his fifth in Illinois and second in Chicago. 

Waller also will own and operate a Culver’s in West Garfield Park, near the new training facility for Chicago’s police and fire departments. Plans call for that location to open next fall.

At Monday’s grand opening, Waller said he wanted to build in Pullman to “be a part of the resurgence” of the area. 

As Culver’s largest African American franchise owner, he also wanted to be in a community that was predominantly Black.

“We want to come into our neighborhoods and make an impact,” said Waller, 60. “And I think bringing jobs — because that’s what’s really needed — that’s going to turn the tides and that’s what I want to continue to do — go into communities, bring some stabilization into those communities and bring jobs.”

Culver’s franchise owner Baron Waller speaks on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, at his new Culver’s at 111th Street and Doty Avenue in Pullman.

The Culver’s that opened in Pullman on Monday is franchise owner Baron Waller’s fifth Illinois location.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The Pullman Culver’s brings 70 new jobs and qualified for $1.5 million in federal and state tax credits. It also received a $250,000 grant from Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said Culver’s is part of the “renaissance” in the area. 

Located on land abandoned by Ryerson Steel in 2006, Culver’s sits next to the Method factory that opened in 2015; last year, an Amazon warehouse facility opened; and just down the block is the Pullman National Monument, which opened its visitor center this summer

And, Beale said, more development is on the way. 

Speaking to Monday’s crowd, Beale said Culver’s gives families in the neighborhood and visitors to the Monument a place to eat, but “we’re going to next work on some place for them to sleep!” 

He wouldn’t offer details but said it shows Pullman is being seen differently.

Culver’s employees watch Monday’s news conference celebrating the grand opening of their restaurant, at 111th Street and Doty Avenue in Pullman.

Culver’s employees watch Monday’s news conference celebrating the grand opening of their restaurant, at 111th Street and Doty Avenue in Pullman.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“I think it’s changing the narrative in our community and the stigma that we have on our community,” Beale said. “These corporations would not have taken a chance ... if they did not feel that something was happening. ... It changes the mindset, and once you change the mindset of people, then you’re going to start seeing the spillover.”

As for McNeal, she’s just excited to have one of her favorite meals — the shrimp basket — on nights she doesn’t want to cook.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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