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Daley’s moving after 125 years

By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

Thousands have sat at the Black leather and wooden booths to feast on seasoned oxtails and rice while gazing at rows of black and white photographs of celebrities on the wall. The aroma of homemade collard greens and fried chicken has seduced generations of families that have called Daley’s restaurant, a home away from home, at 806 East 63rd Street.

But now, Daley’s, an iconic institution in Woodlawn that struggled to adapt as Blacks settled in the neighborhood after segregation, is moving from where it has operated for 125 years.

Chicago’s oldest restaurant, one that has helped shape Woodlawn’s identity, is moving to a new location as urban renewal ushers in a new era in the neighborhood.  Rising property values and fresh developments are signaling the beginning of significant change to welcome the arrival of the Obama Presidential Center and Library.

1Woodlawn Station rendering 1
A RENDERING OF the proposed Woodlawn Station, which will have a strip shopping center with Daley’s as an anchor.

On Monday, September 11, the Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), announced that Daley’s and several of its neighboring businesses will relocate across the street to the Woodlawn Station, a mixed-used affordable housing development on the northeast corner of 63rd Street and Cottage Grove.

The announcement came after POAH purchased Daley’s building and the space of six neighboring businesses for an undisclosed price. The businesses include Boost Mobile, several clothing stores and a liquor store. Brian Berg, a spokesperson for POAH, said the storefronts will be renovated and will remain available for more retail stores and restaurant space.

Across the street in the Woodlawn Station complex, POAH officials said Daley’s will anchor the new shopping center along with Ain’t She Sweet Café, which has an existing restaurant in Bronzeville. Daley’s new location will be 5,900 square feet, Berg said. The project should be completed by next year.

The Crusader was unsuccessful in trying to reach Daley’s owner, George Kyrios, but according to one news report, co-owner Mike Zee had been considering the move since May when POAH offered him the opportunity to move.

The shopping center will be part of a $29.4 million affordable housing development whose three buildings will house a total of 70 units, 35 of which will be rented to former residents of Grove Park, a large Woodlawn development demolished in 2013. About 15 units will be in another new building on the south side of 63rd street on Maryland Ave.

The project started after city officials held a groundbreaking ceremony last May. Weeks later, city officials announced plans to renovate the CTA Green Line station on Cottage Grove and held a press conference to announce a new Jewel Supermarket at 61st and Cottage Grove, hoping to address Woodlawn’s food desert.

ericallixrogers 63rd 3
DALEY’S RESTAURANT IN Woodlawn has been a gathering place for residents for 125 years.

Daley’s impending relocation is part of an urban renewal movement with the proposed Obama library serving as a catalyst. Last week, Redfin real estate service reported that between February and July, home values in Woodlawn went up by 23 percent, the third highest increase in estimated home values compared to that of its metro area in the country. By comparison, home values elsewhere in Chicago saw a 4.6 percent increase.

POAH officials hope Daley’s new location will help promote Woodlawn’s urban renewal by generating fresh traffic in the new shopping center while boosting its profile.

But for Daley’s, the new location may lack the traditional feel and nostalgia that helped make it what is today.

The restaurant was founded in 1892. John Daley, a young Irish immigrant saw the need to feed the construction workers at work on the transit system, the University of Chicago and the 1893 World’s Fair site. Zee’s family bought it in 1918.

According to its website, Daley’s was a “hole in the ground” until 1937 when Zee’s family saved up enough money to reopen the restaurant with 16 stools and seven booths. The family steered Daley’s in the 1960’s when Blacks clashed with whites before whites fled Woodlawn in droves.

Today, Daley’s is a community institution where many regulars are known by their first name. Twelve decades after it was founded, the eatery is packed with regulars and families who can’t get enough of Daley’s soul food and easygoing atmosphere.

Zee, Daley’s co-owner said in one news report that he plans to bring the restaurant’s pictures, but has little nostalgia for the current location.

The Crusader talked to several of Daley’s loyal patrons, who agreed with Zee, saying the restaurant’s legacy is more about customers than the physical space.

“It’s still going to be Daley’s,” said James Deberry, who said he’s been coming to Daley’s since 1965.

“I think it will be Daley’s as long as the food stays the same,” said Matlynn Grant.

Another loyal customer, Cierra Hunter, said “It’s only moving across the street, so it’s not that bad. If it was going to another neighborhood, it would be a disappointment.”

 

 

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