Crusader Staff Report
Izola White, who owned and operated her iconic namesake restaurant that became a Chicago institution in Chatham, died Tuesday, April 10 at Holy Cross Hospital. She was 95.
White opened Izola’s Restaurant in 1957, becoming one of the first Black restaurant owners in the city. The opening came at a time when Blacks were not welcomed in many white-owned and operated restaurants outside the Black Belt.
The soul food restaurant would become a successful operation that was frequented by cops, judges, politicians and Chicago’s Who’s Who, including Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor. Musician Count Basie was also a patron. She hosted Barack Obama when he ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Chicago’s second Black mayor, Eugene Sawyer, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and current 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer were other regulars.
Located at 522 E. 79th St., Izola’s Restaurant was famous for its down-home soul food, including its beloved biscuits, ham hocks and black-eyed peas. For breakfast, her brains-and-eggs were a popular dish. The restaurant also served short ribs, pork chops, collard greens, sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. The restaurant was open 24-hours and closed for several hours on Wednesdays for cleaning.
White called the eatery a ‘Fine Dining Soul Food Restaurant.’
The restaurant was the filming location for the 2001 movie “Ali,” starring Will Smith. The movie was a biopic on the life of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. A couple of Izola’s cooks were featured in the movie.
White was born in Kenton, Tennessee, and came to Chicago in 1940. Before opening her iconic restaurant, she worked at a soda fountain at 61st and King Drive and as a waitress at the Vernon-Rhodes restaurant, at Vernola’s eatery on 61st Street.
Izola was known for giving people a second chance in getting jobs at her restaurant. The Chicago chapter of the Negro American Labor Council held some of its meetings at Izola’s. Izola hosted political fund-raisers at the restaurant and at her nearby home in West Chesterfield.
Izola’s Restaurant closed in December 2010. The space on 79th Street has had several restaurants since Izola’s, but none of them thrived like Izola’s White had no children.