For the ‘Love’ of Chicago: Restaurateur feeds homeless
Black-owned Chicago restaurant fights for social change, healthy meals
Vegetarians and vegans are used to walking into “socially conscious” restaurants decorated with motivational quotes. These eateries are usually full of reading material that focuses on environmentalism, healthy eating, animal rights, and — in this increasingly politically charged world — voting.
But strolling through the front door of Chicago restaurateur Quentin Love’s Turkey Chop has a little extra flavor. In addition to framed interviews with major newspapers, artwork and words of wisdom, one wall in particular confirms this isn’t your average restaurant.
Love is fully aware of why he opened this restaurant in the area that he did.
There’s a painting of Willie Lynch housing projects; Harriet Tubman; handcuffed arms holding the shape of the United States of America in red, white and blue; a green outline of Africa; a man hanging from a tree; an open book of the Emancipation Proclamation; a puff of black smoke coming out of a pipe placed next to a can and a bottle; and brown faces behind a prison cell.
The food menu says “socially conscious” in big letters, and it’s clear that this restaurant stands by its words.
There’s also a communal vibe inside of the West Side Chicago restaurant. A steady rotation of customers stroll in and out, picking up deliveries or carryout, while some sit at tables with laptops or smartphones waiting to get their food. Familiar faces pause in front of Love to extend their hands or catch his eye for a mutual head nod before they walk near the cashier counter.
While the aim of the West Side Chicago restaurant is to provide healthy eating options and a safe place to eat in the neighborhood, Love is fully aware of why he opened this restaurant in the area that he did.
“I saw this old film called Black Caesar with Fred Williamson,” said Love. “He owned all of these businesses in the area and was able to revitalize the area through economics. I wanted to do that myself. So I opened up different businesses in a certain grid, starting with Chatham on Chicago’s South Side.”
Love, a Marine who was honorably discharged during Desert Storm, became a serial entrepreneur and opened a barbershop, a dry cleaners and a clothing boutique between 1991 to 2001, according to a Sun-Times report.
But there was one particular business he started that stood out from the bunch, a soul food restaurant called Soul Xpress, which later became Quench.
“I felt like we needed to add a couple of vegetable options to the menu,” said Love, who was a vegetarian for seven years.
He knew he may have had a better shot at introducing healthier eating options as opposed to solely vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and Quench was a happy medium. He also opened a few other restaurants to please various palettes: An Asian-themed menu at Black Wok; a breakfast cafe called 5 Loaves; and a pasta place called Italian Soul. While the restaurants did have their fair share of customers from 2001 to 2011, unfortunately, all of them closed. His charitable organization The Love Foundation managed to survive.
He knew he may have had a better shot at introducing healthier eating options as opposed to solely vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and Quench was a happy medium.
And that alone helped Love to not be deterred. When Chicago’s West Humboldt Park Development Council invited him to open a new restaurant, he did just that with Turkey Chop in 2012. Turkey Chop’s menu has an amalgamation of hit dishes served at his past restaurants. But his current goal is bigger than being a successful entrepreneur and feeding his family.
Turning his head to look out of his restaurant window, he points toward a nearby corner with a group of young men hanging out.
“If you look right outside, you see 20 people on the corner in an environment that has been ran by the wrong element,” said Love. “And it makes other businesses afraid to open up around here. Why would I open up a business in an area that’s saturated with drugs and crime?
“However, why should I have to get in my car to go somewhere else to get a decent meal or have a decent experience? When we spend those tax dollars in our communities, those neighborhoods continue to thrive. We have to put energy into our own communities.”
And that “energy” from Turkey Chop is also being used to feed those in need and Chicago’s homeless every Monday for the past five years, with the help of a partnership from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. With Turkey Chop meals such as smothered chicken, lentils, rice and cabbage for a community that lives in a healthy food desert full of fast food joints, Love hopes that this will encourage the community to eat healthier.
“I know everyone can’t afford to get a $15 meal or a $6 sandwich,” Love said. “And if you can’t afford to buy the meal, that’s fine too. That’s why we’re here on Mondays to make sure that you have the opportunity to have something healthy at least once a week.”
Last Thanksgiving, The Love Foundation gave away 3,000 turkeys to those in need. And 25 percent of the company’s revenue will be donated to the sister organization for future holidays and events.
“No matter what your background is, everybody needs to feel a sense of love even outside of self-love and your immediate family,” Love explained. “I want people in this community to know I care about them. How do they know that? Maybe I fed them yesterday. Even for the drug dealers, drug users and others making bad decisions, sometimes all it takes is the simplest gesture to make you decide you want to do something different. Feeling loved could mean the world to any human being.”