Chicago mayoral grant to expand local food options


After many restaurants and grocery stores close, food still needs to find its way to the dinner table. 

“People knew restaurants were essential before the pandemic [because] … food is essential,” said Chef Evelyn Shelton, owner of the restaurant Evelyn’s Food Love.

The mayor’s office had food in mind when selecting finalists for the 2022 Community Development Grant. The Community Development Grant is part of an effort to encourage economic recovery coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chicago named more than 60 organizations last year to receive a cut of $40 million invested in community development after the pandemic. The public funds aim to aid equitable economic recovery and encourage safe communities, according to a statement from the city

Selected were businesses and organizations that plan to expand their space or open in the coming year, some of them working around sustainable food options. 

Here are three expanding food businesses to look out for:


Four Star Mushroom: Logan Square

Address: 320 N Oakley Blvd, Chicago, IL 60612

Estimated Grant Amount: $639,051


Using controlled environmental agriculture, Four Star Mushrooms is on the way to sustainable and equitable food.

Joe Weber founded Four Star Mushroom a few years ago with the environment and food culture in mind. 

He did not grow up with a love for mushrooms, but he is instead driven by the damaged food systems he learned about studying ecology in undergrad at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

After learning about the environmental downfalls of industrial agriculture, Weber decided to be part of the solution. After Weber learned mushrooms are a feasible crop to grow sustainably in Chicago, he found his calling. 

The farm grows mushrooms in red oak sawdust and soybeans using a regenerative system rather than one that strips soil of its nutrients. 

“The more I became part [of Chicago] I found there’s a great agricultural scene. The climate and water from Lake Michigan is awesome for what we do,” Weber said. 

He is from the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is excited to be a part of the urban agriculture scene.

Four Star Mushrooms currently sell to chefs and local high-end restaurants, but they plan to expand to more retailers with the upcoming expansion of their space, Weber said. The last expansion tripled their mushroom production. 

Four Star Mushroom currently serves over 80 restaurants and counting in Chicago. Restaurants serving Four Star Mushrooms include Smyth & The Loyalist, Mama Delia, The Dearborn, GT Prime, Perilla and Formentos. 

Mushroom varieties currently growing at Four Star include blue oyster, black oyster, golden, trumpet, lion’s mane and maitake. 


Sideshow Gelato: Lincoln Square

Address: 4819 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

Estimated Grant Amount: $92,098 


Reminiscent of the sideshow days, there will be a new space for acrobats, sword swallowers and fire performers. 

“Everybody’s happy on the inside” is the shop motto, attributed to barkers at a carnival who would encourage passersby to stop in.

“There’s a double meaning here because people will also be happy on the inside after they enjoy the gelato,” said Jay Bliznick, the owner of Sideshow Gelato.

Currently under construction, Sideshow Gelato plans to open in April with half the shop dedicated to gelato, and half to a dime museum.

Accompanying the gelato and performers, the dime museum will include “strange and unusual objects,” Bliznick said.

Bliznick had the idea to open the shop after serving gelato as the executive chef at an authentic Italian restaurant. Sideshow Gelato will offer vegan gelato flavors as well.

The strange and unusual is an important piece for Bliznick.

“Even those who were ostracized have worth and talent. It’s about understanding it doesn’t matter what you’re born with,” Bliznick said. 

They will sell the world’s smallest gelato cone for $1 and all the proceeds will go toward a charity that changes each month.

Bliznick has had the idea for the shop for three years and opens with the intent to “make my gelato, entertain people, educate people, inspire others and give back to the community,” he said.


Evelyn’s Food Love Cafe: Washington Park

Address: 5522 South State Street, Chicago, IL 60621

Estimated Grant Amount: $196,547


Evelyn’s Food Love is a restaurant serving American comfort food using fresh ingredients. One of their most essential values is serving healthier meals made from scratch. 

Chef Evelyn Shelton, owner of Evelyn’s Food Love, loves to cook for the community and visitors alike. Her menu is customizable, especially for catering orders. Evelyn’s Food Love offers catering for up to 300 guests, pop-up services, buffets and even prepackaged meals. 

“We can just make it happen,” Shelton said. “The restaurant has never been closed, even at the start of the pandemic when we thought we would have to close, we shifted to catering.”

Catering has been such a success that they did not see the need to open the physical space to the public until now. After turning their basement into additional cozy seating for guests, they plan to reopen. 

The grant received from the city will help with the cost of construction on the basement in the next month or two. With plans to reopen later this year, the downstairs area will include a bar, which will be “the best way to maximize what we can do in our space,” Shelton said. 

The Black woman-owned business is ACDBE, DBE, MBE and BEP certified.

According to a press release from the mayor’s office, on Feb. 10, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced there will be 12 new recipients of $27 million in community development grants.