Chicago is a city made of neighborhoods, each individual and diverse, reflective of its residents and also the restaurants anchoring them. In her latest book, Jean Iversen shares with us her impressions and interactions in eight local eateries and the people who made them what they are, chronicling their stories in her latest book, (Northwestern University Press 2018).
It started when Iversen, a Chicago writer whose work has appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business, Time Out Chicago, and the Daily Herald, was researching her first book, BYOB Chicago :Your Guide to Bring-Your-Own-Bottle Restaurants and Wine & Spirits Stores in Chicago.
“Along the way there were a handful of restaurants that inspired me,” says Iversen. “The ones I chose for the book weren’t the oldest restaurants in Chicago, I just wanted them to be run by the ‘mayors’—restaurateurs who had become leaders of their small sections of Chicago over the years.”
Included in her list are eateries in Pilsen, Chinatown, Little Italy, Avondale and on Devon Avenue to name a few. Some had long roots in the community such as Won Kow, a Chinatown restaurant that first opened 90 years but unfortunately closed this year.
Iversen says she asked a baseline of questions such as how have you managed to stay in business. The answers she found, were often similar.
“They were gracious, treated their customers well, offered quality food and had old school values,” she says. “They hadn’t gone out of style and were adaptable.”
Each restaurant’s story opens a door and we get to see the personalities of not only the owners but their workers and customers. Iversen spent a lot of time showcasing not only Wow Kow but also Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap in Little Italy; Nuevo Leon/Canton Regio in Pilsen; The Parthenon in Greektown; Borinquen in Humboldt Park; Red Apple Buffet in Avondale; Hema’s Kitchen in West Rogers Park; and Noon O Kabab in Albany Park.
She also collected recipes, a daunting task.
“They weren’t intellectual property as far as the owners were concerned, many just hadn’t written them down,” she says. “I had to get them to sit down and get them to tell me more specific amounts than just “a little bit of this and that.”
What: Jean Iversen discusses Local Flavor: Restaurants That Shaped Chicago’s Neighborhoods. She will be joined in conversation by Jeffrey Ruby. A Q&A and signing will follow the discussion.
When: Saturday, August 25, 3 pm
Where: 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL
FYI: (773) 684-1300; semcoop.com