Community staple restaurant LiteHouse Whole Food Grill is relocating to a new, grander space in the Hyde Park neighborhood after four years of changing lives.
LiteHouse owner Rico Nance recalled the idea for the restaurant was not his own but rather a message from the Divine. He said while visiting Z-Berry, a frozen yogurt storefront in Hyde Park with his wife on 53rd St., he heard a voice instructing him to look across the street to a rental space he would lease and name the “LiteHouse.” He said he signed the lease without so much as a menu nor an inkling as to what he was going to sell.
“God wanted to do something in that location,” he said. Prior to his fateful visit to Z-Berry, Nance said his family member’s specific palettes eventually led him to embrace a healthy food lifestyle.
“One day my wife and my mother decided to throw all the food away that’s hurting our bodies and causing cancer, and then all my favorite foods were thrown away so I couldn’t eat anything. We went to the drawing board and created something we could really feed our family with, and I bet other families are going through the same thing,” said Nance.
The bet paid off. The LiteHouse specializes in healthy and organic meals suitable for a variety of consumers. Nance said LiteHouse made $300,000 in sales in its first year in business in 2013 and has since grown to make $1.4 million in sales in 2016. The LiteHouse has been ranked as a top 5 fast-casual restaurant in the nation, he said.
“We were right about the desires and needs of other people who wanted to eat the same way we wanted to,” he said.
Beyond its culinary and business achievements, the LiteHouse fulfilled a philanthropic need within the greater Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Washington Park neighborhoods. Over 40,000 homeless people have eaten for free at the LiteHouse, 13 ex-felons have received job opportunities, and seven formerly homeless people have found shelter, said Nance.
“The humanitarian and holistic efforts turned out to be a successful one-two punch that God was able to utilize,” said Nance. “I want to give ex-felons second chances because God has given all of us a second chance.”
Yet, despite the LiteHouse’s success, which allowed Nance to open another restaurant, Mikkey’s Retro Grill, 5319 S. Hyde Park Blvd., unforeseen circumstances caused Nance to move on from his former location at 1373 E. 53rd St.
“I knew it was cramped, I knew we could use the extra space, but it was home,” said Nance of his former location. “I kept saying, ‘This is not God’s best’.”
He said it wasn’t his plan to move, but after the building’s landlord informed him the rental price would dramatically increase, an opportunity arose to move to a nearby space with three times the capacity, and it was significantly cheaper.
“With the move to 55th street, I’m trusting God with every move I make,” said Nance.
The new LiteHouse Whole Food Grill will be located at 660 E. 55th St. Nance said he’s “thankful” for the multitude of new possibilities including jazz nights, later hours, comedy shows, and more. He said he envisions the restaurant will officially re-open before May 1 after a few soft openings.
More Than Food
Nance intends to build on the current success of the LiteHouse with an expansion to locations nationwide. He credits the community and all the supporters of LiteHouse for its success.
“I’m putting together an investment group with customers of ours, some believers who believe in the same things that I believe in, who believe in our brand,” said Nance. “All of our employees are a part of it, and we’re going to open 100 stores in the next eight to 10 years throughout the country.”
In order to participate in the investment group, investors pay $350 down with payments of $100 a month for 10 months. Nance said all of his employees are already part of the group but there are a limited number of additional spots he’s making available to other supporters.