New restaurant opens in previously vacant Ashburn building purchased from Cook County Land Bank

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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Restaurant opens in vacant space purchased from Cook County Land Bank Authority
The Friday opening of Jerk Soule restaurant fulfilled not just the owner's dream, but also the important work of revitalizing a neighborhood and reducing blight.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The South Side neighborhood of Ashburn is stronger as a community Friday as they celebrated the opening of Jerk Soule restaurant.

"This is beautiful, this is so needed," said resident Angel Harrell.

The grand opening of the Jamaican-soul food fusion eatery near 82nd and Kedzie is the dream of self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur Judith Smith as a way to honor her late father, who was a soul food cook, and her love of Jamaican food.

"He was a cook and it was my dream to always do something for him," she said.

Smith was able to grow her restaurant from a food truck to a brick and mortar diner because she was able to purchase a vacant building through the Cook County Land Bank Authority.

"In the past, buildings like this would have sat vacant for 10 or 15 years, but now with visionaries like Judith, it's now a community asset," said Jessica Caffrey, executive director of the CCLBA.

Over the last 10 years, the CCLBA has acquired vacant and tax distressed properties which it then sells to buyers willing to invest in the area.

"We don't want to see vacant properties in our communities because it brings down our property values," said 18th Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis.

Not only are Chef Orlando Currie's traditional Jamaican favorites like oxtails and curried goat on the menu, Chef Marty Cunningham is also serving up mac and cheese, collard greens and fried chicken.

Jerk Soule is also the new home of Rib Jibz bbq sauce, the first time the sweet and tangy sauce is available in store.

"This is blessing just to have it inside a physical building until I can get my own building," said Doretha Ferguson.

Friday afternoon the restaurant was packed, and the investment in the community is already paying off. There's a Black-owned nail salon down the street already open, and Judith hopes to be able to expand buy another property pretty soon. She wants to turn it into an event space or jazz club.