A Greater Chatham Initiative program


FoodLab Chicago’s vision was inspired when Victoria Lakes-Battle—a then Greater Chatham Initiative board member (and IFF’s Director of Lending for Northern Illinois and NW Indiana) witnessed the dynamic work that FoodLab Detroit was doing to nurture the development of a thriving and sustainable food ecosystem in Detroit metropolitan area. She understood that FoodLab Detroit’s model would help to bolster South Side Chicago restaurants, elevating them higher, while re-building vital corridors within the South Side neighborhoods. Lakes-Battle introduced the concept to the Greater Chatham Initiative’s Nedra Sims Fears and they endeavored to launch a city-to-city collaboration between FoodLab Chicago and FoodLab Detroit starting in April 2020 with 20 restaurants.

Amid the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, the focus of the program swiftly shifted to resiliency as participating restaurant cohort members adapted to uncertainties of the day. Since then, FoodLab Chicago has continued to grow and foster a communal network amongst its participating restaurants. Through a combination of education and technical support, the FoodLab Chicago cohort members, amassing over $3M in capitol funds, increased employment in local restaurants, and countless other milestones.

This is a challenging time for our community. The new FoodLab Chicago is a vital resource for the South Side’s small businesses that have been hard-hit by COVID-19. As our community fights the virus, our businesses have seen steep declines in revenues and customers. FoodLab Chicago is here to help you. As a FoodLab Chicago member, you will be one of 18 Chicago food-based businesses located in Greater Chatham, South Shore, and Bronzeville. You’ll get free hands-on consulting and industry insider information from food-business experts to help you survive and sustain through these tough COVID-19 times. You’ll benefit from our newly designed Rapid Response, Recovery and Resiliency COVID-19 program.

How it works

FoodLab Chicago focuses on supporting Black-owned restauranters that create jobs and build community. We prioritize innovative and scalable business models that emphasize healthy food, quality jobs, and demonstrates the ability to build a more equitable, just and sustainable food system.

Core areas include:
Educational sessions surrounding concepts such as accounting system basics, capitalization and financial records, designed to help you improve your financial practices and make better business decisions.

  • Financial Operations: Our team of small business experts meet you where you are and work with you on the financial operations issues relevant to your business, such as budgeting and expense tracking, implementing QuickBooks and creating financial statements, forecasting and anticipating revenue and cash flow based on current and future economic outlooks.
  • Plate cost – implementing MEEZ Culinary software to drill down into each plate’s profitability.
  • Menu engineering – Menu matrix building to analyze and maximize profitability, including pricing

The accelerator is driven by a practical curriculum and a supportive, peer-to-peer learning environment where each participant brings his or her current business challenges and opportunities into the classroom, building a stronger, more deeply connected entrepreneurial ecosystem on Chicago’s Southside.

  • Peer Roundtables: Get industry intelligence, advice, tools, and honest takes from industry leaders tackling their restaurants’ greatest challenges

Focus areas:

  • Food Innovation. CSSI Culinary Consultants will lead this focused effort to produce food innovators.
  • Community Economic Development. focuses on supporting Black entrepreneurs growing multiple brick-and-mortar businesses that create jobs and build community along the Broad Street corridor.


For 22 food business entrepreneurs we’ll create business income growth, higher wages for workers and decrease local restaurant leakage in 2020. Providing integrated services to largely mature food businesses owned by people of color, addressing acute barriers that hamper their growth.


Your needs and the needs of the community are urgent. That’s why we’re offering free workshops and panels through FoodLab Chicago. These events will provide Rapid Response Support for your business, including:
o Help accessing emergency relief funds from the SBA and other programs
o Help assessing your immediate liquidity needs
o Assistance to stretch the capital your small business currently has
o Help rethinking business strategies to respond to your new normal

11 sessions of restaurants management curriculum – leadership, HR, accounting, cashflow, marketing, CPG, story telling, pitch

Panel discussions & fireside chats -including triple bottom line, future of food, grocery channel

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring & Networking

Chicago paired with Detroit Restaurants

One-on-One Tech Assistance

Technical Assistance and coaching

South Side

Over 50% of the business licenses issued in the South Side zip codes are for
Food & Beverage.

According to Next Street’s “Assessing Chicago’s Small Business Ecosystem” report, there are 23,830 food and beverage merchants in the 15 south and west side zip codes of the study. High percentage owned by people of color.

At a micro-market level: 207 businesses are in the 60619 zip code (includes Restaurant Row (RR)), 109 or 53% are in the food and beverage retail.

In the 60649 zip code (includes 71st Street) has a similar 50% composition.

There is an exponential potential to close and reverse the wealth gap given the $96 million in the food service, drinking and restaurants leakage that occurred in 2018 along RR, per a UIC report.

Close the employee gab given black restaurant workers make $25,700 or $0.60 on the $1 compared to all Chicago workers who make $42,252, if we establish pay parity between 75th Street and 71st Street and Chicago at large food businesses.

Local Owners approached GCI and SSCC with five challenges for their food businesses which speak to the need for industry and business-stage specific support services that help overcome barriers entrepreneurs of color typically face:

1- Restaurant skill limit growth
2- Insufficient knowledge of best practices
3- Hesitancy to adapt to a changing market
4- Operational inefficiencies constrain profits and expansion
5- Changing market challenges planning



Association for Enterprise Opportunity


Since 1991, AEO and its member and partner organizations have helped millions of entrepreneurs contribute to economic growth while supporting themselves, their families and their communities. AEO’s more than 1,700 members and partners include a broad range of organizations that provide capital and services to assist underserved entrepreneurs in starting, stabilizing and expanding their businesses. Together, we are working to change the way capital and services flow to underserved entrepreneurs so that they can create jobs and opportunities for all.

Greater Chatham Initiative


The Greater Chatham Initiative is an organization charged with developing and driving the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to revitalize the Chatham, Auburn Gresham, Avalon Park and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods on Chicago’s south side.
In 2016, our organization authored a plan to spearhead a new approach to integrated neighborhood and regional development, tailored to the assets, dynamics and economics of the new, 21st century economy.

South Shore Chamber of Commerce


The South Shore Chamber of Commerce strengthens and supports local business corridors and small businesses, by empowering members with effective training, technical assistance and access to private sector and governmental resources.
With a focus on attracting new and diverse businesses, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce engages all stakeholders to improve the overall quality of life in South Shore.

With a focus on attracting new and diverse businesses, they engage all stakeholders to improve the overall quality of life in South Shore.


inspiration for FoodLab Chicago was sparked when Victoria “Vickie” Lakes-Battle witnessed the dynamic work of Devita Davison through the original FoodLab Detroit model. She shared her experience with the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI), and this catalyzed partnership between GCI, FoodLab Detroit, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, and the Association for Enterprise Opportunity.