By Chinta Strasburg
Bridgette Flagg is owner and head chef of Soule Chicago Restaurant, 1931 W. Chicago Avenue, located in the Ukrainian Village where she has maintained a steady flow of customers even through this pandemic, but she didn’t learn how to cook until nine or ten years ago.
The 38-year-old mother of two took a circuitous route before realizing her dream of being a restauranteur, but didn’t stop until she achieved her goal.
By this summer, Flagg will open a second restaurant, building it from the ground up in the North Lawndale area at 3615 W. Roosevelt Road. With her current restaurant, she has 22 employees, and will have a staff of 70 when her new restaurant is completed.
Flagg said she will have an outdoor patio deck, a fireplace, and a mezzanine. “I cook for a lot of rappers, celebrities, athletes like Scottie Pippen, even a lot of the Bulls players…,” she said.
Young, Black and beautiful, Flagg said she ran the streets doing her own thing until one day she wanted to visit her grandmother, but it was too late. Both her mother and grandmother had passed. “I tell everybody that they have to take time to make time before you run out of time.”
Flagg remembered one recipe her mother taught her before she died, string beans and potatoes. That was the only food she knew how to cook.
“I cook this to bring the family back together. I would hold dinner parties on Sundays serving my family string beans and potatoes.” Flagg admits she bought everything else from the store.
Eventually, she began to mimic what her mother and grandmother used to do while cooking. “I would play my oldies while trying to cook like them,” but soon those memories were not enough.
So, Flagg began calling her family members asking them what do you put in greens and eventually she became skilled at mixing seasonings which she now sells under her own brand.
Flagg also used her nose to ultimately become a chef. She would close her eyes and remember the smells of her grandmother’s kitchen then mimic those seasonings to perfection. “Cooking became therapeutic for me,” she said.
Born in the North Lawndale community, Flagg attended Jackson State University for a couple of years majoring in criminal justice. From there she went to Paul Mitchell beauty school, but didn’t graduate from there either. However, Flagg was a hairstylist for 10 years.
Flagg’s success as a restauranteur was like a rollercoaster ride. From being a hair stylist, she opened up her own income tax company where she prepared personal income taxes, but Flagg, who had a strong entrepreneurial spirit, still wasn’t satisfied.
So, she began to cook at home, selling full course dinners for $10 on Instagram, from her childhood home. For two years, Flagg would design a menu and post it on Instagram every day, selling dinners to her entire block and beyond.
Her dinner menus included T-bone steak, fried catfish, barbecue jerk wings, macaroni and cheese, chicken and spaghetti and greens.
Selling her plates of food was easy because all her customers had to do was to call her cell phone, and their dinners would be on the way. “I would sell about 50 or 60 plates a day,” she recalled.
Having established a loyal customer base, Flagg decided to open a restaurant, and she chose the Ukrainian Village community because she wanted her customers to feel safe. “I had a south, and west side clientele and the Ukrainian Village was an up-and-coming area. I felt it would be a neutral ground to come to.”
When the pandemic hit two years ago, Flagg shut down her restaurant for seven months and only provided carry-out orders. “We created a reservation system of six tables that was safer for the customers. When there wasn’t a pandemic, there was a two hour wait to get inside of my restaurant,” she said. “There used to be people lined up down the block.”
During the pandemic, Flagg gives her customers an hour, 30-minutes to dine. “We do four groups a day and in between each reservation we take 15 minutes to clean down the restaurant for the next group.”
When asked what her specialty is, Flagg said her number one seller is fried Catfish. “We get our meats delivered every day. We don’t cook anything that is frozen. Everything is fresh.”
“We have a salmon and shrimp dish which comes with mashed potatoes and a garlic cream sauce. Everything is hand-picked. We don’t cook with beef. Everything is turkey,” she said.
Flagg said she only hires young men to work in her kitchen. “I feel like society would give a woman who has been incarcerated a second chance before they give a man a second chance. I hire little boys, take them off the street and teach them how to cook. Some of them have been in trouble, some not and others on their way to trouble.”
She began this program three years ago. “It was something I felt like I needed to do. I felt like I was saving their lives,” Flagg said.
She does a lot of charity work feeding the homeless every Christmas and adopting families. Flagg works closely with Uhlich Children’s Network. Last year, she worked with Black businesses, Adopt a Family and fulfilled their wish list.
Flagg also participated in a lip sync battle for charity competing with Black businesses to raise money for Uhlich Children’s Network. She conducts coat drives for the community. “We try every year to give back to the community,” she said.
When asked how does one book a reservation, Flagg said customers go to the App Store and down load Open Table. Then can also click on www.opentable.com.
If customers want to place a carryout order, they should click on www.soulechicago.com. Flagg said customers must wear masks and that she practices social distancing including have her customers show their vaccination cards.