Since 2008 Victor Love, son of Josephine “Mother” Wade, has worked by his mother’s side to keep the historic Black-owned Josephine’s Restaurant open, but the pandemic has slowed business to a trickle, which may force him to close the restaurant’s doors.
But, Love vows, as long as he has breath in his body, he will fight to the end. Over the weekend, he made a clarion call for customers to come back to Josephine’s Restaurant at 436 E. 79th St. The restaurant has been in the Chatham community for the past 38 years.
Love, who last month replaced most of the original staff, which had been there for decades, has had to cut back the days the historic restaurant is actually open to the public.
“Business has been so extremely slow, it didn’t make sense to be open. If we don’t turn this thing around by this year, we have to consider closing by the first of next year,” said Love.
“It didn’t make sense being open six or seven days a week and people weren’t coming in, but we’re here and we plan on staying,” Love told the Chicago Crusader late Sunday night during an interview at the restaurant.
Josephine’s Restaurant is now open to the public on Fridays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Other days of the week, Love said, are reserved for private events including weddings, parties, repasts and meetings.
First known as Captain Hard Times, the restaurant was initially located at 351 E. 79th St. Mrs. Wade and her husband then moved the restaurant to its current address, maintaining the same name. In 2008, Love changed the name to Josephine’s Cooking.
When asked what people can do to help him stay in business, Love said, “Just come in and buy food, book a party. Let us do catering for you.” Love said the restaurant’s food is “delicious, some of the best soul food in the city.”
Some of the changes he has made to the breakfast menu, include adding various southern breakfast items, among them, catfish and grits, gumbo grits, chicken ’n waffles, lamb chops, salmon croquets, liver and onions. Love said the eatery now only serves breakfast and lunch because of the early closing times.
While waiting for her order, Karen Woods, who lives in the Englewood community, said, “I thought I would come and support Black businesses because they are far and few between in our neighborhood. I think it is something we should practice doing on a regular basis.”
Another customer, Hayward Ashford, a retired Chicago fireman, said he came to Josephine’s Restaurant for breakfast and was now back to purchase his lunch. “I am here because they sell great food,” said Ashford. “I enjoy it. My wife enjoys it, and even my neighbors enjoy it.”
When asked why it is important to support Black restaurants, Ashford, a retired Chicago fire lieutenant who has patronized the restaurant since the early 1990s, said, “It’s always important to support your neighborhood, no matter what business is in your community. That way, you won’t have to go so far to get good service.”
Ashford has patronized Josephine’s Restaurant starting when it was known as Captain Hard Times. Asked to describe the food at Josephine’s, Ashford commented on the consistent quality and variety of the menu and said, “I give it four stars out of five.”
Two weeks ago, Love hired Bey Smith as his assistant manager. “I love it,” she said, thanking the stream of customers who came to order food at the restaurant following Love’s public appeal for help.
“We had people coming here from all over the city of Chicago, some of whom did not know about the restaurant. The turnaround for people coming here was amazing.”
“I never knew about Josephine’s Restaurant,” she said. “I’ve been working on 79th Street for two years. I never even looked to see this was a restaurant; so to be a part of this legacy is a gift. I hope to help continue the legacy, growing the business and marketing through social media and continue to assist Victor with anthing he needs.”