Simone Freeman Brings Equity And Unity Through Food
Written by Vocalo Radio on November 25, 2020
Simone Freeman thrives in the food culture of Chicago, and it is this passion that inspired her to bring her community together through food as the founder and owner of Sol Café.
Where in the city did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Lincoln Park. It was beautiful. Tons of parks, I grew up really close to the beach. I went to public school, just lots of outdoor playing, going to playgrounds and playing basketball outside. Going to the zoo in the park. It’s a really beautiful place to grow up. I live in Uptown, and I love Uptown. I’ve been there for a couple years now. It’s just such a dynamic neighborhood. There’s so much city hustle and bustle, mom and pop restaurants and shops, historic buildings, beautiful parks, it’s right by the beach. It just feels like the definition of a city to me.
I feel like I’m a total product of this city. I grew up here, my family’s all here, I’m a CPS baby. I grew up in Chicago culture and house music, but I think the food scene is really what shaped me. I grew up in a family where food is so important and such a huge part of my upbringing. My parents would take us all over the city and I got to experience and learn about so many different food cultures. It really stuck with me and that’s what excites me most of the city. Food is memory to me.
Tell us a little more about how Sol Café and your other ventures began.
Sol Café started as a coffee kiosk in D.C. When I moved back to Chicago, the community in Rogers Park had been looking for somebody to open up a coffee shop for a number of years. To me, the coffee shop is a hub of a community. So I decided to take on the opportunity. We’ve been there since 2012, on Howard Street.
We’ve been making chai since 2012, and I saw that there really wasn’t a local chai company providing a product that felt like it was for everybody. We started selling Freeman House Chai around the city for the past couple months and that’s been really fun.
I started Wild Child Eats, which is a collaborative pop-up food series post-COVID, as an alternative and safe way to bring community together and have fun. An opportunity for fun that was really lacking. Each event I collaborated with a different independent chef, who’s part of the new Chicago hospitality movement. We came together, raised funds for different various local organizations. Individuals and businesses donated food, money and space. To me this project is really what the future of the hospitality industry looks like.
What are some challenges you’ve come across with recently?
One of the biggest challenges that I’m seeing in the city right now is the survival of brick and mortar businesses. Can they survive? Particularly in the hospitality industry. You know, we’re receiving the strictest rules, understandably so, but with few resources or support to back us up. There is a huge workforce that makes up the Chicago hospitality industry. From mom and pop shop owners, to undocumented workers, to artists who rely on the steady paycheck —that’s the backbone of our industry. And they’re really struggling.
Obviously, we saw a lot of restaurant groups and chefs go down, people are starting to wake up and say this is not the way that it should be. And right now, it’s really great to see a new era of the hospitality industry – rising from the ashes and rebuilding together. We’re all fighting together, we do everything we can to help each other. Everyone’s donating food, doing home deliveries for people that don’t have work. We’re really starting to have conversations on what it can look like, what it should look like, and start to build from there.
It’s really a scary time, but it’s also an exciting time, to be able to redefine such an important industry in the city.
What draws you the most about Chicago?
Being able to explore food as a kid, I love how the food scene in Chicago is just so accessible, how you can experience so many different nationalities at a reasonable price. It’s really inclusive. For me, there’s no better way to know a culture than to experience a meal. In Chicago every neighborhood is a microcosm of a different food culture.
And again, speaking of those challenges, food right now is laden with conflict and inherent privilege. I’m really curious to be part of this new movement where food can be a vehicle to create equity and unity in Chicago.
Do you have any words to live by?
Sometimes you have to be a lamb and sometimes you have to be a a wolf. Sometimes you just step up and trust yourself and fight for what’s right. Sometimes you need to stop and listen and learn. I follow these words as a woman in business, but I also follow them as simply a person trying to do better for the city.
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Photos by Paul Araki Elliott