The phrase “family business” may conjure visions of mom and pop working behind the counter at a small retail store…but family business is big business. About 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-operated, and there are over 5.5 million family-run businesses in the United States, contributing to well over 50% of the GDP. Some of them may be small, but not all of them are, and family businesses drive the U.S. economy. When starting up a business, hiring members of one’s family may seem like a reasonable first step, and the family business owners we talked to seem quite happy about the way their family businesses are going… and some have been going an exceptionally long time.
The West Side neighborhood of Austin is one of the city’s largest community areas, by both geographic size and population, with about 100,000 residents. It is marked by some beautiful stately old homes, and giant Columbus Park on the western edge, but also high rates of disinvestment, poverty and crime. Austin has become a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, following a trend in which African Americans are disproportionately getting sick and dying from the virus. According to the city of Chicago, Austin falls into a zip code that has recorded a COVID-19 case rate of between 431-720 people per 100,000.
Neighborhood streets in Austin that once bustled with life are now sparsely populated as residents shelter in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19. And local restaurants are feeling the effects.
In Jamaica, chicken is jerked. In Nashville, it’s hot. Here in Chicago, chicken gets dipped or doused in mild sauce. Combining the sweet flavor of ketchup, smoky tang of barbecue sauce and bite of hot sauce, mild sauce has been a staple at Black-owned chicken joints for generations, a cultural hallmark served up with southern-fried classics.
The Popeyes fried-chicken sandwich feeding frenzy is expected to peak this weekend. Long lines and sad sold-out stories have been popping up across social media for days. In my humble opinion, instead of following the flock, you might work your way through the 15 best fried-chicken sandwiches in Chicago restaurants, a list painstakingly researched by my fellow food reporter Nick Kindelsperger. But for a Chicago-style fried-chicken sandwich? One that needs us, a city of hustlers, to make it ourselves? I say go to Harold’s or Uncle Remus or go home.
If you listen to the stories of some of the founders of longtime Black-owned restaurants in Chicago, you’ll hear years of crushing struggles somehow overcome by quiet success. The first families of Black food culture in Chicago not only dominate the South Side with lines out their doors, they also cross cultural boundaries, luring people hungry for their barbecue, fried chicken, mild sauce, apple fritters and sweet steak sandwiches.