Vendors at Pitchfork sell records, tooth gems, food and more

‘We manifested it and now we’re here,’ says Taj Franklin, whose restaurant J. Spice sells Caribbean fusion food at a different festival almost every weekend.

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Bala Bling owner Sara Rojas shows off her tooth gems Saturday at her Pitchfork Music Festival booth at Union Park.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Last year, Taj Franklin and her husband Jamy Franklin drove past Union Park during Pitchfork Music Festival and had an idea for their Caribbean fusion restaurant, J. Spice.

“We’re gonna be there next year,” Taj recalls telling her husband. 2023 was going to be their “festival year” — and they’ve certainly made that happen by booking a different festival almost every weekend.

“We manifested it and now we’re here,” Taj said.

Caribbean fusion food booth at Pitchfork Music Festival

Taj Franklin (left) runs her J. Spice food booth Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival with her niece Jorie Webb (center), 19, and 16-year-old workers Jami’yah Sharp (upper right) and Alanae Robinson.

Ambar Colón/Sun-Times

The couple has operated the restaurant out of The Hatchery Chicago, a food business incubator at 135 N. Kedzie Ave., since 2019.

Their specialty is jerk, the Jamaican seasoning that can be added to chicken, seafood, vegetables — you name it.

They make their own sauces and spices in-house, and have even joined forces with Chicago Public Schools and New Horizons to hire youth for summer jobs.

At their first-ever Pitchfork booth, they’re selling a few feature items including fried lobster on a stick, jerk burgers and chicken tacos. But the best-selling item on their Pitchfork is vegan sliders.

“This is a family-run business,” Taj said, adding that they’ve hired her uncle “Mr. B,” her nephew Devon Franklin, and Jamy’s son Dartanyun Sims to work in the kitchen.

“We are passionate about what we do. We let the seasoning do the talking,” Taj said. She added that their menu is constantly changing, especially due to her family’s mix of ethnicities. She’s Nigerian, her brother is half Puerto Rican, and her sister-in-law is Ethiopian.

Over at the CHIRP Radio Record Fair, where various vendors set up their own clothing, jewelry, body butter and handcrafted item pop-up shops, Shuga Records set up shop.

Owner Adam Rosen first opened the business 23 years ago in Minneapolis before relocating to Chicago, where he now has two stores: one in Wicker Park, another in Logan Square.

Rosen, who’s been operating his record shop at Pitchfork before Shuga Records even moved to Chicago, said that he’s seen many changes over the years.

There are dozens of record shops in the city, and Rosen expressed his disappointment that more of them weren’t present at this year’s festival.

“There were a f- - - ton of [record] vendors,” he said. “It’s kind of a little bit sad actually, because it’s mostly labels now.”

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University of Illinois Chicago student Parker Gillis browses through boxes of vinyl records Saturday at Shuga Record’s stand at the CHIRP Record Fair during the Pitchfork Music Festival.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Sara Gray, 23, browsed through the approximately 1,200 records that were carefully curated by Rosen and some of his employees. That’s, according to Rosen, 16 feet and nine plastic bins worth of vinyl.

While not searching for any record in particular, Gray noted that Pitchfork is her first music festival ever. She also said that the festival’s proximity to her and her partner’s house was a part of what attracted them to Pitchfork.

“A lot of the artists I really like are here,” said Gray, who’s from California. “Yesterday I saw Alvvays. They’re one of my favorite bands and I had seen them before in Chicago and it was great.”

Bala Bling owner Sara Rojas sold tooth gems and jewelry at her booth in the Renegade Craft marketplace. Originally from Ecuador, Rojas has been making and selling artwork for the last 15 years. Rojas doesn’t live in Chicago full time — she returns to Ecuador when the weather here is bad.

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Bala Bling owner Sara Rojas shows off tooth gems Saturday at her Pitchfork Music Festival booth at Union Park.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

“I’ve been doing jewelry since I was a teenager, so I really like trying out different aesthetics and material,” Rojas said, her grin showing off several tooth gems of her own. She said the gems are the newest part of her brand.

Her most popular gems are gold, opals and Swarovski crystals.

“You can break the rules with your appearance,” Rojas said. “[That] is something that is really important for me; trying out new things with your appearance and breaking the norms of gender or normativity in general.”

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