top of page

BY Denise Bailey

Rosalind Cumming-Yeates

Patricia M. Szpekowski

& Duane Wells

I.Leading With Equity on the
South and West Sides

If you don’t believe in yourself, then who will believe in you?

The saying itself is quite popular. In fact, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times. And yet it is rarely put in action with the same gusto with which it is tossed around.

That is, of course, except in Chicago. Acknowledging years of disinvestment, disinterest and depopulation in some of Chicago’s once-thriving neighborhoods, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot campaigned on and ultimately introduced an innovative plan to put Chicagoans at the center of reshaping their own futures, while encouraging corporate interests to bet on Chicago with the same zeal with which the City is betting on itself.

INVEST South/West is Mayor Lightfoot’s signature equitable development initiative, focused on revitalizing historic commercial corridors in 10 South and West side neighborhoods. Launched in October 2019, INVEST South/West’s goal is to re-activate neighborhood cores which historically served as focal points for pedestrian activity, shopping, services, transportation, public spaces, and quality-of-life amenities for local residents. In just over two short years, the program has developed into a global model for urban revitalization, shepherding more than $1.4 billion in public and private investment.

Here’s a look at the 10 neighborhoods chosen for INVEST South/West and the groundbreaking projects already in the works:

Auburn Gresham
Auburn Gresham is a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago bordered by Auburn Park, which is notable for its lagoon and five acres of green land purported to have once been owned by Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden. Just west of Chatham and spanning from 75th to 91st street, Auburn Gresham has suffered from disinvestment in recent decades, while at the same time seeing its population decrease substantially. 

For Auburn Gresham, INVEST South/West has prioritized the intersection of 79th Street and Ashland Avenue and adjacent blocks. To this end, Mayor Lightfoot has announced a winning proposal for an affordable housing project on a large piece of vacant land near 79th and Halsted. Evergreen Imagine, a mixed-use proposal, will involve the redevelopment of one site, at 79th and Green, envisioned as a three-story building containing retail, parking, and residential units on the floors above. For the other site, at 79th and Halsted, a four-story building is planned with ground-floor retail and parking, and residential units on the floors above. Both projects are in the process of being finalized.


Not to be missed in Auburn Grisham: Auburn Grisham already has much to crow about. Not only is this neighborhood home to the more-than-century-old Saint Sabina Church, helmed by Father Michael Pfleger, and the 30-acre River Park, the largest of the six parks established by the River Park District, it is also a go-to destination for comfort food hotspots like Fred and Jack’s, 7600 S. Yale Ave., and
Café 75, 7550 S. Halsted St.

Located on Chicago’s West Side, Austin is one of the city’s largest, most populous neighborhoods. It’s also home to six landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places: Austin Historic District, Midway Park, Austin Town Hall Park Historic District, Columbus Park, First Congregational Church of Austin, Joseph J. Walser House and the Seth Warner House.

In Austin, the priority corridor for INVEST South/West is Chicago Avenue, running from Kilpatrick Avenue on the east to Austin Boulevard on the west. Thus far, Mayor Lightfoot has announced a redevelopment plan for the former Laramie Bank building on the northwest corner of Chicago and Laramie. The proposed $37.5 million project will renovate the landmark structure with commercial uses that include a blues museum, bank branch, café, and business incubator, while the adjacent land will be redeveloped with a mixed-income, multi-story rental building.


Not to be missed in Austin: The Roasted Leaf Cigar and Coffee Café, 5925 W. Chicago Ave., the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, 601 S. Central Ave., and Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave. Columbus Park is a 140-acre historic park designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen which features a bicycle path, a jogging path, a nine-hole golf course, athletic fields, a fishing lagoon, winding walking paths, a swimming pool, and a refectory overlooking the lagoon. It is one of the few parks in the nation to be designated a National Historic Landmark in its entirety. 

Often referred to as the “Black Metropolis” or the “Black Belt,” Bronzeville is a neighborhood steeped in celebration of African American history and culture.

In Bronzeville, the priority corridor for INVEST South/West is Cottage Grove Avenue and adjacent blocks on 43rd and 47th streets. And with the recent opening of The Bronzeville Winery, the city can already claim a win for its signature program. Mayor Lightfoot personally attended the grand opening for Bronzeville’s newest enterprise which received funding through the Mayor’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to bring the vision to life.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, on the southwest corner of 47th Street and Vincennes Avenue, the Legacy District, a $19.2 million joint venture of KMW Communities and LG Development in partnership with Bronzeville Community Partners, is planned. The proposed project will create a six-story building containing 12,000 square feet of commercial space and 25 mixed-income residential units.

Not to be missed in Bronzeville: Just 10 minutes south of downtown, on Chicago’s South Side, Bronzeville boasts everything from cultural exploration via the likes of the Harold Washington Cultural Center, 4701 S. Martin Luther King Dr., and the Southside Community Arts Center, 3831 S Michigan Ave., to art galleries including Gallery Guichard, 436 E 47th St., and Blanc Gallery, 4445 S. Martin Luther King Dr., and Faie Afrikan Art, 1005 E. 43rd St., to soulful restaurants like Peach’s on 47th, 4652 S. King Dr., and Yassa African Restaurant, 3511 S. King Dr., to cool libations and cooler sounds courtesy of laid-back lounges like Some Like It Black (SLIP), 810 E. 43rd St., and Juke Joynt, 515 E. 47th St.

Greater Englewood
Greater Englewood is bordered by Garfield Boulevard to the north, 75th Street to the south, Racine Avenue to the west, and the Metra Railroad Tracks to the east. Since its inception, the neighborhood has gone from oak forest and swampland to being one of the busiest neighborhoods in the city, to once again being on the verge of a complete reinvention.

In Greater Englewood, INVEST South/West’s focus is the intersection of 63rd and Halsted streets and adjacent blocks. A proposal to expand Englewood Square — the shopping plaza at 63rd and Halsted — is in the works, and a second phase involving a $10.3 million “eco-food hub” will establish culinary-related assets to empower, employ, and feed local residents.

Not to be missed in Greater Englewood: Kusanya Café, 825 W 69th St., the I Grow Chicago Peace Campus (including the Peace Garden and Peace House), 6402 S Honore St., Growing Home Urban Farm, 5814 S. Wood St., the Ogden Park Nature Garden, 6500 S. Racine Ave., and the annual Hamilton Park Englewood Jazz Festival (September 15 – 17).

Humboldt Park
From its namesake park to the many family-owned restaurants populating its colorful streets, Humboldt Park is a bastion of Puerto Rican culture. In Humboldt Park, INVEST South/West’s priority includes portions of North and Chicago avenues.

Winning proposals include the Team Pioneros project, a $53.9 million proposal planned for the northwest corner of North Avenue and Pulaski Road. The project will rehabilitate the vacant, landmark Pioneer Bank building with an entrepreneurial incubator space, Latino cultural center, and office space for the lead architect, JGMA. A 0.75-acre parking lot north of the bank is planned to be redeveloped with a nine-story, 100 percent affordable, 75-unit residential building; offices for Humboldt Park Family Health; and a potential library branch.

There’s also, The Ave., a $25.3 million proposal planned for the southwest corner of Chicago and Central Park avenues. The 0.6-acre site, currently occupied by a small commercial building containing the West Side offices of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), is planned to be redeveloped into a five-story, mixed-use, mixed-income complex with 44 residential units and approximately 21,000 square feet of restaurant, gym, and daycare space, in addition to a new office space for NHS.

Not to be missed in Humboldt Park: Appropriately chosen as the home to the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., Humboldt Park is also brimming with flavor thanks to standout local restaurants like Nellie’s, 2458 W. Division St., Turkey Chop, 3506 W. Chicago Ave., and Roeser’s Bakery, 3216 W. North Ave. Likewise, with the 606 Trail, 1805 N. Ridgeway Ave. — a 2.7-mile elevated park and trail built on a former industrial train line — there’s no shortage of sights to behold in this evolving community.

New City

New City is a South Side neighborhood comprised of Canaryville, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago, and Back of the Yards, one of the most historically significant communities in the city. This is where you’ll find the famous Union Stockyards Gate, on the opposite side of which Chicago’s legendary reputation for butchering meat was burnished. 

Despite transitional years that have led to some depopulation and blight in the once-thriving corner of town, New City is reinventing itself. INVEST South/West’s focus is the intersection of 47th Street and Ashland Avenue and adjacent blocks. United Yards — the winning proposal for this neighborhood — is a $51.5 million joint venture between Celadon Partners and the Blackwood Group planned for multiple vacant and improved properties near Ashland Avenue and 47th Street. The project will redevelop a vacant, City-owned lot at 1515 W. 47th St. with a 50-unit affordable apartment building including a ground floor business hub and youth programming space.

Additional phases will revitalize a largely vacant, four-story commercial building at 4701 S. Ashland Ave. with 30 senior rental apartments and a ground-floor coffee shop; redevelop vacant land at 1641 W. 47th St. with a pair of affordable, three-flat buildings; and enhance an existing supportive living center at 4707 S. Marshfield Ave. with a medical clinic, dialysis center, and park space.

Not to be missed in New City: Enjoy smart cafes like the Back of the Yards Coffee House, 2059 W. 47th St., destination eateries like local Mexican food mecca Las Esperanzas, 1758 W. 47th St., and new industry like The Plant, 1400 W. 46th St. — a repurposed industrial meatpacking facility that is now a sustainable, self-sufficient business complex serving as a living laboratory used to demonstrate techniques for reimagining waste as a resource, achieving economies of scale, and incubating small businesses.

North Lawndale

Located west of the Loop on Chicago’s West Side, North Lawndale is a neighborhood where you’ll find an eclectic collection of treats. The INVEST South/West’s priority corridor is Ogden Avenue, running southwest from Kedzie Avenue to Pulaski Road.

In keeping with that priority, the Lawndale Innovation Center is a $38.4 million project led by 548 Development and Related Midwest proposed for Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue on the West Side of Chicago’s largest piece of vacant land. The 20-acre development will include a 302,140-square-foot solar-powered industrial complex, a pair of community centers and public open space featuring public art.

Meanwhile, Lawndale Redefined is a $31.4 million joint venture from GRE Ventures, Imagine Group, and 548 Development. Planned for an acre of vacant, City-owned and private land on Ogden Avenue between Homan and Trumbull Avenues, the project consists of 60 mixed-income apartments, three market-rate townhomes, retail and restaurant space, and a stand-alone community center with technology and arts programming. Outdoor amenities include a plaza with public art and other cultural amenities.

Not to be missed in North Lawndale: From brews and tasty bites at the Lagunitas Brewing Company, 2607 W 17th St., to exploring the bounty of the Farm on Ogden, 3555 W Ogden Ave., a 7,300-square-foot greenhouse, Veggie Rx, complete with a commercial and teaching kitchen, aggregation space for Windy City Harvest Farms, and a year-round indoor market, to the signature sights served by the Original Sears Tower, 925 S. Homan Ave., and Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Dr., this westside neighborhood is the city’s most buzzed about communities.

Greater Roseland

The Greater Roseland area is perhaps best known for the Pullman Historic District — a neighborhood so distinguished it has been declared a national monument.

Built in the 1880s, this 1,500-building planned community was created by luxury railcar tycoon George Pullman to house the employees of his rail car factory. Today, Pullman’s legacy lives on in the architecturally exceptional row houses and restored company buildings that still stand in the heart of the Pullman Historic District.

Also standing in the heart of the Pullman National Monument is the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, a museum whose permanent collection pays tribute to and displays exhibits pertinent to contributions made by African Americans to America’s labor movement; with a significant focus on the African American railroad employees of the Pullman Company.

In Greater Roseland, INVEST South/West’s priority corridors include South Michigan Avenue and 111th Street, where successful developments like Pullman Park, a 180-acre mixed-use development on Chicago’s Far South Side, anchored by a 150,000-square-foot Walmart and complete with 150,000-square-foot Amazon delivery station and a 135,000-square-foot Pullman Community Center opened its doors in November 2021.

Not to be missed in Roseland: Old-Fashioned Doughnuts, 11248 S. Michigan Ave., the more than five-decade old doughnut shop run by 83-year-old Buritt Bulloch. Many Chicagoans believe these classic doughnuts are enough to make the trek to Roseland worthwhile.

South Chicago
In South Chicago, INVEST South/West’s priority corridor is Commercial Avenue from 85th to 92nd streets, as well as adjacent blocks on 92nd.


The Galleria 89, the winning development project for the neighborhood, is a $23.5 million project from 548 Development planned for approximately 0.6 acres of underutilized properties on the 8800 block of South Commercial Avenue. The project will create a four-story building with 35 mix-income apartments and rehab an existing, three-story building with 10 mix-income apartments.


Approximately 12,000-square-feet of commercial space on the ground floors of both buildings will include a café, business center, and bike shop.

Not to be missed in South Chicago: This working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s southeast side plays host to the National Shrine of Saint Jude, 3200 E. 91St St.; Steelworkers Park, East 87th St at Lake Michigan; the delicious delights of T & K African Kitchen, 2955 E. 87th St.; the heady pleasures of the Mission South Chicago Cannabis Dispensary, 8554 S. Commercial Ave.; and classically inspired

producers of accent furniture for more than eight decades, the Butler Specialty Company, 8200 S. South Chicago Ave.

South Shore

With a prime location along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, South Shore has long held a prominent place in the hearts of Chicagoans. Also, because former first couple Barack and Michelle Obama were married in one of the ballrooms at the historic South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr., and shared the stage together at South Shore’s Avalon Regal Theatre when Barack Obama accepted the 2008 presidential nomination, these two neighborhood landmarks have earned national significance for millions of Americans, becoming go-to destinations for many visitors to Chicago.

In South Shore, INVEST South/West’s priority corridor is 79th Street from Stony Island on the west to the Metra tracks on the east. With this area in mind, the winning RFP for this neighborhood has been granted to Thrive Exchange, a $47.3 million proposal planned for multiple sites adjacent to the Cheltenham station on Metra Electric’s Main Line near 79th Street and Exchange Avenue. The mixed-use project will create 39 residential units on the south side of 79th Street and rehabilitate the historic Ringer Building for commercial uses and 24 adjacent condominiums.

Not to be missed in South Shore: Whether taking in what is arguably the best view of the Chicago skyline while strolling through the 142-acre Rainbow Beach and Park, 3111 E. 77th St., exploring the local architecture or checking out the latest entertainment offerings at neighborhood hotspots like the ETA Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave., the Quarry Event Center, 2423 E. 75th St., or Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., the South Shore community is alive with possibilities for locals and tourists alike.


CHICAGO’S O’HARE AND MIDWAY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS offer passengers a full array of dining, shopping, and service options in their award-winning concessions programs. In addition to providing enhanced passenger experiences, the Chicago Department of Aviation’s (CDA) programs offer real and life-altering business opportunities. Diversity, inclusion, and enhanced customer experience are at the heart of the federal Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program at American airports.

The ACDBE program — a requirement at any large airport receiving Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding — is a business development engine that has been in place for 35 years. The ACDBE program supports business ownership opportunities for small businesses owned and controlled by minorities and/or women.

Air Chicago magazine is an example of an ACDBE-certified business. ACDBE-owned operations can range from recognized national and global brands to an entrepreneur’s brand introduced to the aviation community and the traveling public. Operations can be entirely owned by a diverse firm or they can be partnerships between a minority-owned firm with one or more other firms.

Airports identify and engage these businesses through a combination of outreach, capacity-building, and establishing goals for participation. At most airports, ACDBE attainment is a percentage of gross receipts of an airport’s concessions program. Each airport determines goals based on projected opportunities and the availability of ACDBEs.

Like many federal diversity programs, there are rules regarding which businesses can be “certified” as ACDBEs, as well as monitoring and counting requirements. Primarily, these rules are in place so that the program’s intended beneficiaries participate on a level playing field. The mark of a successful ACDBE program is when ACDBE-certified businesses experience enough growth to graduate out of the program. 

A peek behind the curtain at many of your favorite national or local stores, restaurants, and services located at airports often reveals the participation of many small, diverse businesses as owners and operators. For airports in Chicago, the impact on both the economic growth of these small businesses and the passenger experience enhancement is significant.

In Fiscal Year 2021, O’Hare achieved a 43% ACDBE participation
rate — O’Hare’s highest participation rate in a decade. In Fiscal Year 2021, Midway reached one of the highest ACDBE participation rates for any airport in the nation at 56%. The CDA is incredibly proud of these accomplishments, and the FAA Office of Civil Rights has also recognized the CDA for the success of its ACDBE programs.

Fortunately, any airport with an ACDBE program also has internal resources and connections to external resources to help facilitate ACDBE participation. The Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) is one of the most prominent organizations supporting the aviation industry, including airports and ACDBEs.

Since 1984, AMAC has represented a diverse membership of airports, corporations, minority, women-owned and disadvantaged business enterprises (M/W/DBEs) and professionals within the aviation and aerospace industries. AMAC provides career, education, networking and scholarship opportunities.

AMAC continues to be at the forefront of aviation industry legislative issues that impact diverse employers, employees and businesses, particularly DBEs in the airport concessions and architecture, engineering and infrastructure (AEC) sectors. This focus was never more critical than during the COVID-19 pandemic when AMAC rallied its leadership and membership to ensure that airports’ and concessionaires’ voices secured inclusion in federal relief packages.

Additionally, the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic investment into our nation’s airports infrastructure, marks a tremendous opportunity to fuel AMAC’s goal of advancing the participation of women, DBEs/ACDBEs and AEC firms in airport contracting.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, AMAC extends its reach through its members and Board of Directors, especially its Regional Directors. Tonja Pastorelle, President of Pastorelle Marketing Group, represents Chicago in the Midwest/Great Lakes Region. In addition to being AMAC’s Midwest/Great Lakes Regional Director, her firm is also a local, successful ACDBE. 

If your goal is to have a successful aviation business, one of the most important investments you can make is to join AMAC. There are many ways to become involved in AMAC and its significant educational, informational, networking, and policy-focused opportunities.

The AMAC Foundation offers scholarships to support university students pursuing careers in the aviation industry. It develops programs and events to maximize opportunities for aviation professionals and students to network.

The AMAC PAC works to provide a more robust legislative voice to issues important to diversity in the aviation industry by supporting federal candidates, political action committees and caucuses that understand and support equity in airport contracting and employment

AMAC also hosts various virtual and in-person programs and events annually, including its signature event, the AMAC Airport Business Diversity Conference. This highly-acclaimed conference is a premier aviation industry-wide event that draws 1,000 attendees — a hub for education, advocacy, and networking opportunities promoting diversity and inclusion in the aviation and aerospace industries. The conference features workshop tracks on concessions, AEC, professional development and the Federal Aviation Administration. The conference also offers airports, government agencies, corporations and entrepreneurs the opportunity to cultivate new relationships and expand their national presence through engaging and relevant educational and networking events.

This year’s event, with the theme Redefining Aviation Opportunities Together, will be hosted by the Chicago Department of Aviation from June 20 – 23, 2022, in Chicago, IL. Interested in learning more about AMAC or its conference? Please visit


III.Chicago’s First Lady and AMAC Focus on Equitable Opportunities for Youth

The Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) expands its mission of advancing opportunities for women and minorities in the aviation and aerospace industries with the AMAC Foundation. The foundation offers internships, scholarships, access to aviation, aerospace and business programs. With Project Leaders inspiring Future Talent (LIFT), the AMAC Foundation hosts interactive learning and mentoring events throughout the year.

Students receive exposure to education and aviation, aerospace and business career paths through airport tours, workshops, speaker presentations, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) projects. Young people garner life possibilities and career direction that they might not have gained without a connection to AMAC.

Similarly, the City of Chicago supplies youth with hands-on experiences, mentoring, and job opportunities with the My Chi My Future initiative. Spearheaded by Chicago’s First Lady Amy Eshleman, the ground-breaking program connects Chicago youth to career options and neighborhood activities as well as shows them ways to be leaders in their communities.

“This is Lori’s and my signature program to support young people in finding their passions in our city in an equitable way,” said Eshleman. “We are interested in youth development and the City showing up for them in a different way.”

The My Chi My Future program was launched during the middle of the pandemic in 2020 and has achieved impressive results. According to the program’s 2021 Impact Report, 200,000 experiences to work, learn, volunteer, and explore were provided to Chicago youth as well as 20,000 jobs for Chicago teens and young adults during the initiative’s One Summer Chicago project.

Accessibility to opportunities and resources is also a major focus of My Chi My Future. The program launched an app in May connecting young people to services, paying apprenticeships, and jobs around the city. “We believe Chicago is the first city to launch an app focused on connecting young people to out-of-school resources and job opportunities,” said Eshleman. “Young people don’t want to go to websites, they want info on an app on their phone. The app provides virtual programming, and access to organizations who assist with health, jobs and internships. The app makes these opportunities way more accessible and visible.”

My Chi My Future aims to supply the city’s youth with what they need in their own communities. “We are connecting young people with organizations where they live in a more intentional way,” Eshleman added. “It’s about setting the table and facilitating conversations at a grass roots level. We want to serve young people when they’re not in school. It might be with an after school program, a job at a partner organization, or a youth group in church. That’s what My Chi My Future is about. It’s connecting young people to opportunities to start identifying with what they love to do.”

When it comes to learning about the trades, engineering or government positions so that young people can be part of opportunities in infrastructure, the program helps facilitate those options as well. “We are working with Chicago Public Schools and the City Colleges to make sure we break down barriers to the trades. We want students to see opportunities as bricklayers, carpenters, construction workers, or aircraft mechanics. The unions are working with us so that these industries look like the diversity of the city, and young people have access to well-paying, in-demand jobs. We want them to see their future in the city, we want them to feel hope, to feel joy, and to discover their passion.”

IV.Meet Eboni Wimbush, AMAC president & CEO

Eboni Wimbush is the President & CEO of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC). In this role, Wimbush continues AMAC’s nearly 40-year history and rich legacy of advancing equitable opportunities and maximum participation for minorities and women throughout the aviation and aerospace industries.

Q. You’re a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, did you know from a young age you held a love of aviation?


A. I fell in love with aviation at an early age through exposure from my mother who worked as a flight attendant. My mom volunteered to do community work for a non-profit organization focused on exposing high school students to careers as pilots. The non-profit organization sponsored me to attend a summer flight academy at Tuskegee University. I learned how to fly single-engine airplanes under the tutelage of Chief Anderson — a famous Tuskegee Airman.


My interest in aviation took me to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University where my interests expanded with an internship at FedEx Corporation in Flight Operations. I graduated from Embry Riddle with a degree in Aviation Business Administration and started my career at FedEx Corporation.


Q. You are still relatively new in your role as President & CEO of AMAC. What has been the biggest challenge in your role? And what has been the most surprising part of your new position?


A.  AMAC has a rich history and legacy. I had the honor and privilege to meet a founding member on my first business trip to Atlanta. He retold several stories of the forming of AMAC. The sense of dedication and commitment to enhancing business opportunities for minorities and women was profound. I’ve had the chance to meet numerous members. I’m humbled and surprised by the passion and deep commitments which are palpable.


The historic investment in infrastructure, particularly airports, marks a monumental opportunity to fuel AMAC’s mission of advancing the full participation of minorities and women in employment and contracting opportunities throughout the aviation and aerospace industries. Challenges continue to exist for women and minority-owned businesses including continued lack of access to capital sources, inadequate bonding capacity, and lack of access to networks available to support and grow their business.


AMAC is diligently working on behalf of our diverse membership through advocacy efforts, critical programming, and vast networking opportunities to position our members to receive equity throughout this transformation of America’s infrastructure that is to come from this generational investment.


Q. How can entrepreneurs take advantage of historical developments in infrastructure spending to ride the wave of opportunity?


A. Entrepreneurs — particularly women- and minority-owned businesses — will need to develop a strategy to capitalize on the projects flowing from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It starts with strengthening their overall business infrastructure by investing in people and processes to scale business operations and expand teams. Additionally, they should look to organizations like AMAC for training, resources, and support.

V.Meet Some of the Airport’s
Minority Business Owners

Ralph Moore is a Hudson ACDBE partner for Brookstone, which has three retail locations at O’Hare in Terminals 1, 2, and 3. His first ACDBE location opened 20 years ago.

Moore hopes travelers at O’Hare find something at Brookstone they have never seen before. “The products we offer are distinctive in design and quality, tech-savvy, and perfect for travelers on the go,” he said

He is also passionate about the City of Chicago, advancing minority businesses, and the value of the ACDBE certification through the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA). “Chicago really is a leader and embraces diversity and minority and women-owned businesses,” Moore said. “Federal Aviation guidelines for airport ACDBE businesses is 10%, but at O’Hare, the percentage is 31% of minority- and women-owned businesses. There’s no place better to be than at O’Hare. It’s our welcome mat to over 60 million people per year.”

During the devastating time of the pandemic, Moore noted that there was a 92% drop in business, but the CDA kept everyone’s spirits up and continually provided airport businesses with valuable information on federal funding assistance.

Moore also views his membership with the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) as crucial for him and his business for networking with airport professionals from around the country. He has been a presenter for this important organization and looks forward to the group’s convention this June in Chicago. “It’s a great way to show off our city,” he said.

Jamba Juice

Gail Pye of Emmanuel Partners is the ACDBE partner of The Grove, Inc. in operating the Jamba Juice located in Terminal 1 at O’Hare.

“Being an ACDBE partner at one of the nation’s busiest airports is fortuitously amazing,” Pye said. “The partnership with Jamba represents what we consider to be a solid, fan-favorite brand and healthy alternative for travelers.”

Pye was awarded her ACDBE certification in 2018. “I was introduced to airport concessions by my father, Rev. Clay Evans,” she said. “He was The Grove’s minority partner for 12 years. I attended corporate meetings, city council hearings, RFP presentations, and walked the terminals with my father, which generated my interest in the business.”

As a member of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC), Pye reflects on how AMAC provides excellent support and information from seasoned minority and women concessionaires. “The most interesting aspect of AMAC is the history of how women and minorities became affiliated with airports in different cities and regions, plus the individuals who helped them along the way, the lessons they learned through trial and error, and how they have remained relevant,” she said. “Overall AMAC continues to provide great mentorship from individuals who actually want you to not only succeed, but carry and pass the baton.”

She will be attending the 2022 AMAC Business Diversity Conference alongside The Grove, Inc., who is a sponsor.

Reggio’s Pizza

Shari Wilson is president and CEO of Reggio’s Pizza, a Black-owned company, with three locations at O’Hare in Terminals 1, 2, and 3.

It has been her dream to be part of the concessions at O’Hare and was fortunately able to acquire Reggio’s Pizza, a 40-year-old staple in Chicago. As an ACDBE partner, Wilson’s dream was fulfilled. She was born and raised in Chicago and was brought up to believe Chicago is the best city in the world and to support local businesses.

“If you’re a small business, being in an airport gives an opportunity for people to see you who would not have seen you before,” she said. “When you support local businesses at O’Hare, it allows us to employ more people and positively affect the local economy.”

Reggio’s Pizza is very popular and a great success at O’Hare. Wilson thinks it’s the butter crust for which they are known, and their handmade sauce, which has also resonated with people. “Reggio’s is considered a family business,” she said, “because the employees become family and they love the food, too, so it’s coming from their heart.”


America’s Dog

An already experienced airport retail concessionaire, Zeke Flores, founder and CEO of Flying Concessions, is an ACDBE partner with America’s Dog located in Terminal 1 at O’Hare.

“When I made the decision to go into food and beverage concessions, I was able to partner with the best, the experienced Alpogianis family, who grew up in the food and beverage business,” Flores said. “Brothers George and Manolis Alpogianis (and their late father Gus) operate TAG (The Alpogianis Group), which owns and operates the America’s Dog location at O’Hare and other Chicago locations, along with the Green Market in Terminal 3 at O’Hare.”

Flores notes the business is very hands-on and America’s Dog Chef George Alpogianis conducts in-person visits to their potato purveyors to ensure top quality ingredients.

While America’s Dog carries a very wide menu, the Chicago Dog is Flores’ sentimental favorite. “But there’s also Greek pitas and everything can be made into a wrap,” he said. “We’ve expanded on our grab-and-go and healthy sandwiches, and even the protein plates we provide at Green Market.”

“When I partnered in this operation, I got to tour it, see, and feel it, and ask questions of the employees,” Flores said. “They’re up at the crack of dawn getting here and they love being here. Our employees find careers here at the airport. It’s just not a job to them. If we can leave the next generation better off, that’s the goal.”

Midway Restaurant Development

Farhana Rahim is the director of business development for Midway Restaurant Development LTD, which offers five distinct food retailers at various terminal locations of O’Hare International Airport, including Subway, Gold Coast Dogs, Garrett Popcorn Shop, The Goddess and Grocer, and Goddess on the Go.

From humble beginnings, her father Sulaiman Rahim received his ACDBE certification over 25 years ago when he first opened Subway at O’Hare in the early 1990s. His opportunities grew from there.

As a second-generation member of the business, Farhana has worked at the restaurants since she was a high school student. She was involved in many jobs and served as an assistant manager at Gold Coast Dogs, previously at Midway Airport, and then as general manager of The Goddess and Grocer at Terminal 5 of O’Hare.

She is also proud the company received the first and only Garrett Popcorn Shop license. “In the 1970s when my grandmother came to the U.S., she worked at Garrett and made popcorn in the window at a Garrett Popcorn Shop in Chicago,” said Farhana.

Farhana has valued membership with the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) and found that during the pandemic the
organization served as a platform to help and support concessionaires. “AMAC worked very hard to advocate for legislation during the pandemic,” she said.

Now a seasoned business person, Farhana looks to the future. Her varied experiences fueled her passion for recently receiving an ACDBE certification for her own new company, Fresh Creations. “As a 100% women-owned, Asian-American business, this certification will open pathways for my own business at the airport,” she said.

Nuts on Clark
Nuts on Clark is a certified woman-owned, family-run business led by three generations of women — Estelle Kenney, president and co-founder with her late husband, Herb; Carly Kenney, marketing manager; and Carla Kenney-Phillips, managing director. The team is rounded out by Estelle’s son Robert Kenney, manager of all stores, and grandson Zachary Kenney, logistics manager.

“Over 40 years ago, we began selling a variety of five nuts at our small storefront on Clark Street in Chicago’s famed Wrigleyville neighborhood,” said Estelle Kenney. Today, they offer award-winning gourmet caramel corn, cheese corn, kettle corn, colored/flavored popcorn during holidays along with chocolates and fresh nuts.

After 17 years in business, Nuts on Clark became 100% ACDBE certified and opened at Midway Airport; seven years later at O’Hare. Today, they operate one location at Midway and four stores at O’Hare.

Nuts on Clark is not franchised and does not have investors. It is purely a family-owned business. The family’s energetic personalities, passion, strong work ethic, and dedicated employees are the pulse of the business.

Recently, they began selling their famous fresh popcorn through custom-designed, cashless, state-of-the-art vending machines at
both airports.

“Becoming an ACDBE business at the airport opened doors and helped our growth,” Estelle Kenney notes. The Nuts on Clark membership with the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) has helped them connect with other minority and women-owned businesses. “We look forward to the upcoming conference in Chicago and are proud to be a sponsor,” added Robert Kenney. 

Nuts on Clark is truly a homegrown Chicago success story.

INVEST South/West Kickoff
Farm on Ogden 20180623-DSC_8308LR.jpg
Butler Specialty Company.jpg
SteelworkersPark by Michael Paoli.jpg
Ralph_Moore_01_027_Print (2).jpg
Shari S Wilson_Headshot.jpg
bottom of page