Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel and wife Nasya have called the struggling South Shore neighborhood home for over 25 years, for years running a vegan catering business from their home or out of shared kitchens.
Last year, they finally decided to open their own vegan restaurant, Majani, at 72nd and Exchange. It did so well, that the couple started dreaming of opening a commissary kitchen and corporate offices to expand its catering capacity.
That dream has come true.
Last Thursday, they got a call alerting them their application to the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund had been approved. They’ll get a $160,000 grant to build out a 5,000-square-feet space two blocks away, at 7355 S. Exchange.
“We got a phone call from the mayor himself. I was just like, ‘Oh my God! No way!’ ” Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, 54, said Tuesday.
“Business has done very well, a lot better than we expected. One of the reasons we opened our place was because we got tired of leaving the neighborhood every time we wanted to eat something healthy. Apparently, others felt the same way,” the chef said.
Emmanuel was among some 34 small-business owners who in the last week learned their proposal had been selected to receive a share of about $6 million in grants from the fund intended to jump-start economic development in disinvested South and West Side communities.
About 32 businesses shared $3 million doled out in last summer’s first round of the grants generated from voluntary payments by downtown developers in exchange for zoning density accommodations.
Hundreds of businesses in the city’s most beleaguered neighborhoods have applied for the grants that can help with property acquisition and rehab, hiring, small business training, etc., covering up to 65 percent of the cost of a project.
“Our goal and our game plan is not just for one part of Chicago to grow, but for all of Chicago’s neighborhoods to grow together,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday of this latest round of grants.
“Investments in neighborhood businesses don’t just create jobs, they create a sense of community. At the end of the day, that’s what the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund is all about.”
The Little Village Chamber of Commerce was among winners this round, snagging $250,000 to turn a vacant multi-unit building into a community center offering a cafe for workforce and youth development, a bilingual learning center, and business incubator.
“It will be called Xquina Cafe, a unique partnership between the property owner and the chamber,” said the chamber’s Executive Director, Jaime Di Paulo.
“We’re over the moon excited. There’s nothing like this in Little Village,” he said. “Little Village is the youngest per capita community in the Chicago metropolitan area. There’s 100 business incubators downtown and very few in neighborhoods, especially in Hispanic neighborhoods.”
The funding will cover about half the costs, with the rest to be secured through a capital campaign, Di Paulo said.
Proposals were judged on factors such as project feasibility, ability to have a “measurable, catalytic impact” on a community or commercial corridor, and whether there were similar goods or services in the neighborhood.
Winning projects range from rehab of Bronzeville’s South Side Community Art Center, a national and city landmark; to expansion and a new parking lot for Calahan Funeral Home in Englewood; a sit-down dining and gaming center for Cinemas Entertainment in North Lawndale; and renovations to an Austin bar and lounge, Ted’s Place.
Despite challenges facing businesses in disinvested neighborhoods like his, “I love South Shore,” Emmanuel said. “I love the amenities and being close to the lake and the lakefront trail. That’s what really does it for me. I have a vision of South Shore one day being a walkable community and having everything that we need, right here, right within our community.”
A complete list of projects is available at Mayor Emanuel’sNeighborhood Opportunity Fund.