Chef’s Upscale Soul Food Eatery Invites Community Support
By Chinta Strausberg
Defender Contributing Writer
Emanuel Washington is a former professional European basketball player, who played in France for seven-years currently is a restaurateur. Today he is a 27-year seasoned veteran chef living his passion. As the owner of Grub Chicago, an upscale restaurant he strives to provide healthy, tasty soul food to his customers.
Located at 1230 West Taylor, Washington, in the University Village Near West Side community. The native Chicagoan, cooks everything from scratch with a dose of love. “I am passionate about what I do. I put love in the food and you can tell,” he said. He may be be a little presumptuous however he swears, “Grub Chicago is the only restaurant of its kind in America.”He failed to distinguish what makes it unique and different from any other soul food restaurant. The restaurant opened November 16, 2014.
There are and have been many upscale soul food rester ants. I can think of a few off the top like Georgia’s that was on Melrose in Los Angeles which was classy and the food was undeniably delicious, fresh and prepared with love; Slyvia’s on Malcolm Boulevard never disappointed; and B. Smith restaurants located in New York City, DC and Sag Harbor each bore her signature elegance and superbly prepared cuisine.
Born in the Austin community on Chicago’s West Side, Washington graduated from Austin High School and went on to the University of Colorado where he majored in financing and marketing. After graduation, he worked on LaSalle Street in Chicago’s banking and financial district.
Looking back over his life, Washington said, “I have always had a passion for cooking beginning at the age of 9. My grandmother kept me in the kitchen with her. The only time I could leave home was to play basketball. She’d send me to the pantry to get seasonings, flour, oil, sugar all the different ingredients that she used to cook but what I didn’t realize then was that she was also teaching me about the science of mixing ingredients.
His grandmother, Alice Hughes, held the position of church “Mother” for 61-years. “She was the heart of Monumental Faith,” said Washington.
She once asked him if it is true that soul food is unhealthy which inspired him to begin researching the topic. Consequently he discovered that the foods that make up soul food are healthy like greens, sweet potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, rice, chicken, etc, are healthy but the salt pork, fat back, salt, and sugar added to these foods as seasoning can make them unhealthy as well as the preparation. Soul food is often fried and over cooked. So he set out to improve how soul food is prepared so that food served in his restaurant would be healthy, flavorful and esthetically pleasing to the eye.
While attending college, Washington said he was known for his cooking and his apartment became a hub of social gatherings but with a price. “I charged them $5.00 a plate for a full-course meal. You could not get that sort of food in Colorado back then,” he mused. “I knew then I wanted to own my own restaurant.” Washington knew with his passion for cooking, his business acumen and culinary skills, it would be hit.
Destiny led Washington who injured his knee away from basketball. He could no longer play ball as a guard. So he returned to Chicago. He was torn between returning to corporate America or following his dream of owning a restaurant. To pursue his dream won so he enrolled in a culinary school. doing so wasn’t popular at the time. “I wanted to learn the science behind the cooking,” Washington explains.
Soon After he got a job at a restaurant peeling and chopping potatoes. Washington says that he knew at the time that he was above that level but it was a start. He stayed focused and followed his vision. His belief in himself brought him to his current position as a professional chef with some modicum of fame over the past 27-years.
Washington has worked in the New York chef’s market and in Washington, D.C. as an executive chef to the Department of Defense Analysis where he prepared meals for top military officials—generals and admirals.
Asked why he named his restaurant ‘Grub Chicago,’ Washington explained, “Grub means soul food” hence that is his tag line for his restaurant – “Put your Grub on.” Everyone loves soul food, but everyone does not have access to it. This restaurant is in a beautiful community where everyone can have access to premium soul food. I want everyone regardless of color, ethnicity or sexual orientation to dine at Grub Chicago.”
Washington said his restaurant could compete with any restaurant in Chicago. “We just happen to be a soul food restaurant,” he said. “I came back home to Chicago a year ago specifically because soul food restaurants were closing in Chicago and across the nation. I invested my own money and built this restaurant because it was something that had to be done in my hometown.”
“Grub Chicago is something the Lord built,” said Washington who is proud of hiring from the community including second chance employees. “I not only give them a job, but I train them for a career. However I need the community to support us. I need the churches to support what I am doing. I am a God-fearing man. I always have been and always will be. I work hard and pray hard,” he said. He describes himself as a food historian, a lecturer and author.
Washington is also proud of his cooking saying he makes al of his sauces and salad dressings and all food is cooked fresh from scratch. “Our customers leave satisfied, and they never lead stuffed or bloated. Rather they have more energy.”
He is also proud to have known the late Dr. Webb Evans, known as the father of the “Buy Black” movement, who died earlier this year at the age of 101. “I’ll never forget what he would say, ‘As often as you can, put your dollar in another black hand.’ He was the architect of the ‘Buy Black movement’.”
But not everyone is welcoming Washington to the University Village. He said two-weeks ago, there was a four-day Italian festival in the community but the University Village Association allegedly failed to invite him and to add insult to injury they approved placing a 40-foot mobile hot dog trailer in front of his business. It was from New York. “They don’t even pay taxes here,” he said. “I lost $30,000 in business.
What Mr. Washngton didn’t explain is whether or not he was a member of University Village Association. If so it’s certain that he would have been included. Nor did he mention whether or not he was informed a head of time. These factors would make a difference in the perception that he has printed. Still we have to question what authority that association has to block any business.
Washington says , “When I called the association and asked them to move the trailer, I was told she had been sued by the Irish last year so she expects to be sued by an African American….” So he reached out to Ald. Jason C. Irvin (28th) for help but he allegedly never returned his phone calls.
Activist Revin Fellows, co-founder of the national Black Agenda Consortium, is assisting Washington and has launched a 31-day ‘Buy Black, Love Black and Give Black’ campaign in honor Dr. Evans. It’s also held during the 14th anniversary of the Black Business Month.
“This is the year of the Black Woman” as, declared by the United Nations. He said Black women have a buying power of $680 billion and that he wants them to spend at least 2 percent of that with Black owned businesses. He is asking organizations and churches to patronize the Grub as well as other Black owned businesses.
“People say things about my restaurant but they’ve never eaten here,” said Washington. People say things about me who don’t know me or even met me. With a business of this magnitude, you have to expect some of that. One think I know for sure is that the Lord always has the last word.”