There is a burgeoning effort to bring new economic growth to the Washington Park area—and executive chef and restaurant owner Evelyn Shelton is helping that effort.
Located at 5522 S. State Street, Evelyn’s Food Love opened in late May 2017 with a mission to provide a warm and comfortable dining experience. Shelton has worked as the Executive Chef of Northwestern University’s culinary facility for several years—a highly coveted role.
Having always worked in food service and the culinary industry, Shelton says she strived in the hopes that one day she would own her restaurant.
“When you work with people for a long time in the food industry, you see the potential to make money. I thought I’ve always wanted to open up a Jazz supper club and I may still, but this idea came into fruition faster—this is the one that we have.
She felt it was important to be in a community that craved the necessity of a quality restaurant with great food and wonderful service. The thought was to stay in a community that needed some economic energy. We wanted either Washington Park, Englewood or South Shore. This is the place we decided on because we were able to purchase the property,” says Shelton.
Nestled next door to a church, Evelyn’s is conveniently easy to find although the black iron wrought gates may be a little discerning—the exterior décor of the blazing red door which welcomes visitors into a wide-open space of beautiful artwork hanging from the exposed brick walls.
Shelton says the concept came out of her head into reality thanks to architect Brian Hudson. In hiring Hudson, Shelton was able to highlight her love for art from her personal collection and provide a warm and comfortable dining environment. “We wanted a see-through kitchen because we have nothing to hide. We’re not hiding behind curtains, we’re not hiding behind bulletproof glass, and that’s exactly what we got. We wanted someplace that was going to be comfortable where people would want to sit down and relax.”
Influenced by various cultures, the menu is a daily theme of choices presented on a large, black chalk board along with a selective hot enclosed counter of dishes.
“The menu changes pretty regularly, which some people like, and some people just want to order from the counter. We’re really not a soul food restaurant, but we do soul food very well, just like we do everything else.”
From their baked BBQ or fried chicken to the catfish po’boys—the food is fresh and ready to order. Evelyn has some tasty signature entrees to keep customers coming back for more.
“We do a roasted fish—roasted catfish every single day. We make our own dry rub and our own spreads,” she says.
They also make their sauces and spreads from scratch.
“They come back for the crawfish, shrimp and grits. They come in here for the friend lobster tails and the apple cilantro turkey burger, which we make from scratch.”
Shelton explains, the burger is charbroiled and they do not bring in food that’s pre-packaged, fried, breaded or pre-frozen. Everything is made fresh from the beginning to when it’s delivered to the customer. Whether you’re dining in or carrying out—all food is provided in disposable containers.
“We’ve opted to go for the carry out containers. So, when people eat, you know what they wanted. If you don’t finish your meal, it’s already in a to-go-box—we give you a bag and everybody’s happy,” she said. The containers also keep down overhead costs of an extra dishwasher or busboy, and that avoids any additional costs being passed to customers.
Opening up a new business is never easy and although the economy seems to be on stronger ground than several years ago—it helps to have a supportive lender such as Local Initiative Support Company (LISC).
“They worked really hard to make sure that I had access to capital, to get every single thing that I needed in order to get this project off the ground, and that’s what you need.” Shelton says it is important to have “your ducks in a row” and to “invest in yourself” to show your investors that you have skin in the game–in addition to good credit. She adds, “People need to know that you will give them their money back at some point.”
With a small staff, Shelton relies heavily on her team who reside in the community. “We are doing every single day what we enjoy doing—what we love to do. We try to bring that to the general public, and I hope we continue to have that success.”