From jerk to barbecue, black business owners feed Evanston and support each other


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

Claire Bhalia, the owner of Claire’s Korner. Nearly a quarter of all Evanston businesses were minority-owned in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

Hecky Powell opened Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston nearly 36 years ago, and as a black business owner, he emphasized the supportive relationship he had with other business owners in the city.

“It doesn’t matter what color they are,” Powell said. “I have a good relationship with all of them.”

Nearly a quarter of Evanston businesses were minority-owned in 2012, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These businesses have a supportive relationship with one another, as well as the larger Evanston business community, Powell said.

Powell has lived in Evanston his entire life. His restaurant, located at 1902 Green Bay Rd., has succeeded because of good food, good service and good staff, he said.

Hecky’s Barbecue serves Creole-style recipes that Powell learned from his mother, tracing back to his great-grandmother, who was raised in New Orleans.

“I didn’t go to school to be a chef,” Powell said. “I learned from the best chef there is, and that’s your mother or your grandmother, especially from the south, especially from New Orleans.”

This family-taught style of cooking is what makes his barbecue recipes unique, Powell said.

Powell said he believes all businesses operate to make a living and help people. Even though he has positive relationships with other businesses, Powell said competition is inevitable.

“You’re always in competition with other people,” Powell said. “But competition is a good thing. It makes you better.”

Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine opened in Chicago 17 years ago, but they moved to Evanston last April (when they moved down the road and across the street). The restaurant, located at 711 Howard St., has a menu that caters to a broad audience, including vegan and vegetarian options, co-owner Lenice Levy said.

After almost a year of operating in Evanston, Levy said she is looking forward to “really embracing” the city’s business community.

“The residents, the city has been very supportive of us being in Evanston,” Levy said. “Every obstacle that we’ve encountered, we’ve been able to overcome it.”

Levy said one of the biggest challenges she faced is gaining exposure. She said the restaurant has taken a “very grassroots” approach, sending mailings, using social media and hosting fundraisers.

Claire Bhalai — co-owner of Claire’s Korner, another Jamaican restaurant located at 1827 Emerson St. — said she has a good relationship with Good To Go. She said the owners talk about when business is fast and slow.

Bhalai said she mainly focuses on maintaining her own customer base, a task she has succeeded in, given that Claire’s Korner has been open in Evanston for 15 years.

“(Customers) get good food here, and they get good service,” Bhalai said. “That’s why they keep coming back because, as they told me, they were like, ‘Claire, you cook your food with love.’”

Many of Claire’s Korner’s customers come from Evanston, including Northwestern, but her Jamaican cuisine also attracts people from outside of the city, she said.

Levy said traction from the community is key to owning a successful restaurant.

“Being a black-owned business, I’m hoping that people come out and support because we need the support,” Levy said. “It’s really important that people are conscious in really seeking out black-owned businesses to patronize.”

Catherine Henderson contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @ceproctor23

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