Pfleger: â€œRestaurant powerful sign ofÂ hope, peaceâ€
By Chinta Strausberg
After being closed for the past 12-years, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan late Sunday night touted the reopening of the $5 million Salaam Restaurant saying it is a sign of peace in a troubled community with Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) calling it a â€œdiamond,â€ thatâ€™s symbolic of the beginning of jobs and black business growth.
As a stream of excited supporters entered the restaurant, located at 706 W. 79th Street, Strobe lights flashed across the building and crisscrossed the sky. Inside, scores of people were ushered to the second floor ballroom that was eloquently designed by Nation of Islam leaderâ€™s daughter, Maria, and filled with beautifully colored delicacies from fruit to salmon.
The entire restaurant is non-alcoholic and the food is all organically grown and purchased from Nation of Islam farms.
There are three unique restaurants inside of the Salaam Restaurantâ€”the Crescent CafÃ© that is adjacent to the bakery and is Wi Fi wired, an eloquent dining area and the majestic looking ballroom on the second floor.
Father Michael L. Pfleger, who attended yesterdayâ€™s special VIP reception, said: â€œThe opening of the Salaam is a powerful sign of Hope in a time when we are experiencing such hopelessness in the world.
â€œWhile the economy continues to struggle and our communities seem to be losing ground the opening of the Salaam stands as a Beacon of New Birth and New Life. It is also important that in a time of so much violence the Salaam which means PEACEÂ comes forth on 79th Street,â€ Pfleger stated. Â He and Prince Asiel Bin Israel, who owns the Soul Vegetarian East Restaurant, along with other ministers prayed for the success of the restaurant during the VIP reception held last Friday.
Minister Ishmael Muhammad, Farrkahanâ€™s national assistant, also spoke urging all to support the rebirth of the Salaam Restaurant.
Brother Leonard Muhammad, Farrakhanâ€™s chief of staff, said, â€œWeâ€™re just proud of the fact that we were able to do it for the community. We know this is something that has been asked for by people in the city for many years. The Salaam is now open and itâ€™s open to say and weâ€™re proud to be going in the direction that was started by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad when the Salaam Restaurant was at 83rd and Cottage Grove years ago.
â€œMuch of the product and food that is going to be sold here will come from Muhammad Farms in Georgia and in Michigan,â€ said Muhammad. â€œWe have organic fruits and vegetables that will be consumed here by our customers. We are really proud of that as well.â€
When asked why was the Salaam Restaurant closed for 12-years, Muhammad said, â€œIt was closed basically because it is a debt-free facility, over $5 million, and we decided we were not ready to do the restaurant business. He had some very huge difficulties with managementâ€¦.
â€œWe are trying to do it again as an un-privatized business but hopefully weâ€™ve brought in the management people we need to keep it going and make it work properly,â€ said Muhammad referring to the restaurantâ€™s general manager, Calvin Hollins.
Muhammad is hoping to capture some of Starbuckâ€™s customers with the coffee shop. â€œWe also have a lunch and dinner menu until 9 p.m. every day,â€ he said.
â€œWelcome to your Salaam Restaurant,â€ said Minister Farrakhan. â€œWe wanted to put a building up that represented that Elijah Muhammad had in mind when he put up the original Salaam Restaurantâ€ at 83rd and Cottage Grove.
Saying Elijah Muhammad always got the best for his people, Farrakhan said back then he bought a printing machine for $1 million with the stipulation that the company had to train his people how to run it. Farrakhan said Muhammad bought houses, apartment buildings; land packing plants, bakeries, supermarkets. â€œWe had land in Georgia, land in Alabama, land in Honduras. We traded with Morocco bringing products in from Morocco. He sent his laborers to China to bring back products from China.
â€œWe were the largest fish distributors in the United States of America under his leadership.â€ Farrakhan said they brought back fish from off the coast of Peru and did so well they forced white fishermen to drop the price of their fish to compete with theirs.Â â€œThis what weâ€™re doing is for him,â€ Farrakhan said referring to Elijah Muhammad.
Serving as the Masters of Ceremony was WVONâ€™s Cliff Kelley who said, â€œI think itâ€™s wonderful. The only person happier than me is the Minister himself. I have been here so many times and I was so distressed over the fact that it was closed. I heard it was going to reopen, and itâ€™s more beautiful than it was before.â€
Kelley wants people to know that you do not have to be a Muslim to come to the Salaam Restaurant. â€œThey can come here. They donâ€™t have to go downtown. You wonâ€™t find any place better than this. Everybody is welcome here.â€
Attorney Berve Muhammad, Minister Farrakhanâ€™s lawyer, said, â€œThis is one of the most historic events that has taken place in this era. To see a jewel on 79th Street to reopenâ€¦. â€œ
Referring to other black-owned restaurants that have gone out of business like Izolaâ€™s, Army & Louâ€™s and the Original House of Pancakes on 87th Street, Muhammad said, â€œWe see the Salaam Restaurant becoming this foundation for this South Side and a place where black people and others can come to have quality food and a quality banquet facility.
Saying Minister Farrakhan has â€œinstituted a tremendous program of economic development, Muhammad said Muslims and others â€œlove to see the Muslims coming because they knew they were going to get fresh, clean quality products from the Nation of Islam.â€ He said Farrakhan is following in the footsteps of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
â€œWe donâ€™t have to go to Cicero anymore. We donâ€™t have to go downtown anymore and pay all that extra for parking,â€ the attorney said. This is the vision of the Honorable Minister Farrakhan and provides us with an opportunity for economic development where we live.â€
â€œAs we were going through this two-year process of resurrecting and providing for the rebirth of the Salaam Restaurant, we were in and out of this building all kind of days and nights and every time we would stand on the sidewalk people would say, â€˜Is the restaurant opened, yetâ€¦â€™ We can now say welcome, come on in.â€
The restaurant is located in Ald. Latasha Thomasâ€™ (17th) Ward. â€œWeâ€™re absolutely excited about it and this time weâ€™re going to make sure it stays open. We are going to support this banquet hall. They have fabulous food, the fine dining restaurant, the every day restaurant and bakery.
â€œWeâ€™re going to support this because this brings more opportunities to our community. This brings jobs, business, more vibrant 79th Street opportunities,â€ she said. Thomas also announced that she would be holding her functions at the Salaam Restaurant and will be urging others to follow suit.
Attorney Muhammad said they chose Calvin Hollins, who has owned and operated many restaurants including the E2 Night Club at 24th and Michigan where 21 people were killed after being trapped in the building.Â He was exonerated of all charges. The father of 10 children, Hollins is determined to make the Salaam Restaurant the very best in Chicago having opened 17 different restaurants across the nation.
â€œWhen you come here, youâ€™re going to see how to eat to live put into practice,â€ Muhammad said referring to the bakery and the organic food they serve. He said the bakery would be opened from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Crescent CafÃ© opens at 11 a.m. through 10 p.m. and later on Fridayâ€™s and Saturdays. The Fine Dining Room is opened from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and later on the weekends.
The restaurant is wired for Wi Fi. On the coasters, it reads: â€œYour real power is in trying to be right,â€ Louis Farrakhan. There are also murals on the wall depicting the faces of black civil rights leaders. There are several 100-inch flat TV screens to watch. When you order your food, the waiters and waitresses are there to patiently explain the organic ingredients.
And, to make sure the food is cooked properly, Farrakhan has hired three of Chicagoâ€™s top chefs including Jimmy Carter, the executive chef who was the executive Sous Chef for the Marriott Association for Marriot Hotels in Amsterdam and of Jordan, Chef Sammy La Gunas, who was born in Michoacan, Mexico who was the executive Sous Chef at the Hyde Park Caribbean restaurant and the Calypso CafÃ©, and Chef Kareem Roberts who is a â€œculinary infusionist.â€
Rev. Willie Taplin Barrow, 87, who formerly headed the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, urged everyone to support the Salaam Restaurant. She is gathering the names of black businesses from several churches and told the audience, â€œWe got to start doing business with each other. Iâ€™m tired of talking and eating because all we do is eat and talkâ€¦talking about nothing.â€
Barrow said â€œitâ€™s time for a changeâ€ and that should begin with supporting black businesses including the Salaam Restaurant. Farrakhan, who said he is Barrowâ€™s godson, said, â€œShe is the only 87-year-old woman who got an 80-year-old son.â€Â Actually, he will be 80 next May 11th.
Congress Danny K. Davis (D-7th) said he is old enough to remember the first Salaam Restaurant then located at 83rd and Cottage Grove. â€œIt was fantastic. This is incredible. Itâ€™s an indication that things donâ€™t always go the way you want to have them go but if you wait and have enough patience and enough determination, you can put it back together again like the Nation as done.
â€œI look forward to this becoming a regular eating place not only for myself but people like me and they donâ€™t have to have any chitlins on the menuâ€¦. Iâ€™m going to be a frequent diner. This becomes my place to eat because I like eating black. I make no bones about it. I like shopping black. I spend my money with African Americans. I practice what I preach,â€ said Davis.
Also present were former Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) and her daughter, Jimalita Tillman, executive director of the Harold Washington Cultural Center, Buzz Palmer, the husband of former State Senator Alice Palmer, Sheila Hill, executive director of the Chicago Minority Supplier and Development Council, who said, â€œthis is a phenomenal opportunity for corporate American, the private and public sector for each of us as individuals to embrace this business is not closed to anyone but opened to everyone.â€
Former Ald. Wallace Davis (27th) who has owned the Wallaceâ€™s Catfish Corner Restaurant, 2800 W. Madison, for 21-years said, â€œThis is a breath of fresh air. Itâ€™s long over due. I thank the minister and his staff for bringing something to the South Side which is long overdue but well worth the wait. Itâ€™s off the chain,â€ he said. Accompanying Davis was Zoe Young said the restaurant is â€œfabulous. I think itâ€™s going to bring some brightness and some diversity to our African American community.â€
Ernest Sanders, formerly with the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, said, â€œIt is so great that the Minister kept it in the family so long. The community will benefitâ€¦.â€
A video was played of Magic Johnson who was supportive of the restaurantâ€™s re-opening. Besides a live band, Reggie Reg, a comedian, entertained the crowd.
Farrakhan added, â€œThe problem with us is that we know how to serve our former slave masters, but we donâ€™t know how to serve one another. As long as we are short on love, we will be even shorter on service. We have to learn how to truly love one another.â€ He said if they â€œmiss the mark,â€ he wants his customers to let him know. â€œOur duty is to serve you.â€
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.