Stories of Uptown

Uptown, ever welcoming, and ever evolving, is a vibrant, living tapestry — as rich in history as it is in culture. The neighborhood has long been home to social activists and advocates, immigrants and refugees, artist and entrepreneurs of every stripe, all of whom have helped shape the area as it is today. Through this storytelling series, Uptown Chamber of Commerce aims to spotlight personal histories and stories from the shakers and movers in business, non-profit, and the cultural arts that make Uptown unique. These spotlights serve as an extension of our mission to build a strong, unified business environment, facilitate economic development and strengthen community.

First Sip Cafe

Erin and Gigi Hoang immigrated with their family to Chicago from Vietnam in 1997. Uptown, being a port-of-entry for many immigrants and refugees throughout the decades, and Argyle Street specifically for predominantly Southeast Asian populations, soon became where the Hoang family found community and home. After working several years in other Vietnamese restaurants in Uptown, Erin and Gigi’s parents decided to open their own restaurant along the corridor. Café Hoang Restaurant, opening in 2000, showcased Central Vietnamese Hue cuisine. The sisters, along with their other siblings grew up working in the restaurant. “We both grew up on Argyle and have always loved Uptown…Argyle and Uptown has been home to Gigi and I since we immigrated to Chicago,” says Erin.

Despite growing up in the restaurant and service industry, the Hoang sisters followed their own career paths before deciding on opening a coffee shop in the area. Erin graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and accounting and worked in a start-up. Gigi obtained a BS and a MS in Mathematics from DePaul and Roosevelt University, respectively. After graduating from her master’s program, Gigi returned to Café Hoang to help. That was when the sisters noticed a potential need for a coffee shop on Argyle. With its proximity to the Red Line, music venues, and the lake, the sisters felt they could fill a void along the corridor by opening the first coffee shop. Erin mentions that after noticing the empty store fronts on Argyle, the sisters “felt it would be a good opportunity for us to be the first coffee shop in the neighborhood. So, we made a sister’s pact of If you do it, I’ll do it. We both opened First Sip Café in November 2017 without any prior café or coffee experience or savings.”

Erin and Gigi were one of the first 2nd generation AAPI business owners in the Asia on Argyle corridor. The sisters believe that as 2nd generations business owners, they bring positive change for the future while still trying to pay homage to the people and community here prior to them and currently. It’s working with the younger generations and new businesses but still supporting and looking out for the older mom-and-pop shops; making sure everyone is getting taken care of. The Hoang sisters have not only slowly risen to become community leaders in the area, but they have also created a community and meeting space for folks to socialize, study, do work, and organize. Their creativity and leadership have drawn both old and new customers to the area. If you enter on any given day of the week, you’ll notice people from all walks of life, generations sharing space and connecting. Without AAPI business leadership like the Hoang sisters have shown, we would lose out on a lot of the cultural history, traditions, and perspectives on how business is operated.

Beyond bridging the generational cultural gap through business and commerce, the sisters shine bright in their creative drinks which have customers always coming back to support. “We love to experiment with different flavors to pair with coffees and teas—we have a spicy mango latte with cayenne or the pearl noir, which is a tea latte with charcoal, coconut and jasmine flavors,” says Erin. As First Sip Café is soon approaching 5.5 years, Erin and Gigi stated that they are so proud of the community that they have built with the kindest, most creative, and smartest folks. As they move towards 6.5 years, the Hoang sisters hope to continue growing with the community and hosting more events the is engaging and impactful. For any 2nd generation AAPI entrepreneurs that hope to carry on the cultural legacy of Asia on Argyle and may one day hope to open a business, the Hoang sisters share, “If our parents immigrated to a new country without savings or knowing the language, then we can take the risks too.”

Mini Tx (Thuong Xa) Pharmacy

Jennifer “Nuky” Pham is the co-owner of Mini Tx (Thuong Xa) Pharmacy and a daughter of Vietnamese Refugees. Jennifer’s parents, Nam and Tam Pham, were the first Vietnamese business owners on Argyle Street. Her father, Nam Pham, was a pharmacist in Vietnam, but in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, had to flee and start anew in Chicago. Nam started working at a local pharmacy close to Truman College and would translate the prescriptions to Vietnamese for other refugees during the time. He saw a need to have a pharmacy specific to the refugee community, so he, along with Jennifer’s mother, Tam, and their friend opened Saigon Pharmacy on Argyle in 1980. Later, in 1983 they moved down the street to its current location at 1069 W Argyle Street as Mini Thuong Xa Pharmacy.

Because of the influx of Southeast Asian refugees, they knew they needed to create a place for refugees like themselves to have access to services and a need to build community. Now a pharmacy, the business originally started as a mini mall (thương xã) that housed the pharmacy, a doctor’s office, a video & music store, jewelry shop, film development store and later included karaoke systems, travel agency and more. It was a place where mostly Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian folks came to pick up their medicine but also a place to make friends, build community. It was a one stop shop that felt like home. Through the years, they let go of the other aspects of the business and ran it solely as a pharmacy. In 2014, as Jennifer’s parents were contemplating selling the pharmacy to a larger corporation, she felt she had to step in and take over to sustain this legacy business that has been so crucial to so many Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian clients.

This idea of returning to Argyle was never in Jennifer’s plan. To her, Argyle has always been a place she knew as home, but also a place she tried to run from. Through the years Jennifer realized how much the pharmacy meant to her, her family, and the community. As a second-generation business owner, there is a continuance of legacy, history and quality community care. Because Mini Tx Pharmacy is a small local pharmacy, they can focus on the quality of care their patients need. “We speak three languages here — Vietnamese, Cantonese, and English. We know folks here by name not just an RX #. Many of our patients have been coming here for years including their family members,” says Pham.

As Jennifer has carried on the torch of her parents’ hard work and determination into the future, she has also risen as a local community leader in the area. “I’m passionate about the growth, healing and positive community impact of Argyle,” says Pham. She not only co-owns Mini Tx Pharmacy with her business partner/head pharmacist, Thoa Bui, she has taken active community leadership roles as she co-founded community organizations, HAIBAYÔ and Celebrate Argyle. Jennifer mentions:

As Asian American, we were taught to keep our heads down, work hard and not speak up. To now have AAPI leadership within the business community it is about creating a new culture of business. As diverse as the AAPI community is, our ideas and perspectives are just as diverse and unique. We come from all types of backgrounds bringing something new to the table. As an AAPI owned business and entrepreneur, my word of advice is to lean on the community. Speak up, share your story, struggles and creativity. Your healing is sometimes your calling. Ask questions and learn. Many times, you will find that your story will also inspire others. Allow your ideas to flow freely and just go for it! 

As carrying on the legacy of her parents drew her back to the area, the visions of the potential future for Argyle push her forward. Jennifer’s vision and hope for her business is to see it grow and continue to serve the community for years to come. “I love the community engagement here; we care and want the best for one another. I have felt supported as a business owner. The chamber, local organizations and community members have helped to keep our small business alive. I hope to see continued community engagement and support. I see a bright future for us.”

Uptown Deli

Mohammed Abuhashish, the owner of Uptown Deli, located at 4759 N Sheridan, has always called the Northside of Chicago his home. Mohammed’s father came to Chicago with his older brother from Jordan when he was 12 years old. Years later, his parents met in the city, got married, and welcomed Mohammed into the world. They always lived throughout different neighborhoods on the Northside, with Uptown being one of them, but after years of moving around, Mohammed decided to move back to Uptown because of the love he felt from the community and all the excitement the neighborhood had to offer. After several years back living in Uptown, Mohammed wanted to open a business to offer the neighborhood something he loved and felt that was missing. After noticing a vacant storefront at the corner of Lawrence and Broadway, surprisingly the same location where his father ran a business during the mid-90s before selling it in the early 2000s, he felt the timing was right to open Uptown Deli.

Like his father before him, and like many other immigrant entrepreneurs, Mohammed felt the importance of having minority leadership in the business community. It opens the door to new ideas as well empower other minorities that they can follow their dreams and do anything they put their minds to. As a second generation Jordanian American, Mohammed felt this empowerment as he pursued his entrepreneurial journey. It did not come with early challenges though. Mohammed mentioned that his “biggest challenge in owning a business was getting started. The first years I felt I would go out of business due to not having enough customers. But as time went on, I grew close with those here in Uptown and feel my business has become a staple in the community.” The challenge of opening a minority business is having an idea of what you want your business to be while also matching the needs of the community, Mohammed mentions. Initially, he did not understand the needs of the community, but he stated he overcame this challenge by interacting with the customers daily which helped him and his business to better understand what they need and want from his business.

Building relationships with the larger community helped Mohammed overcome the early challenges his business faced, and he continued building those relationships through his membership in the Uptown Chamber of Commerce. “Being a member of the Uptown Chamber has helped my business as I have been able to network with other leaders in our community as well as using those leaders as a sounding board for questions or ideas I may have about my business,” says Mohammed. He feels that the greatest impact the Uptown Chamber has made for the larger community is in the way they support small businesses…they also coordinate community gatherings and fundraisers that benefit the community as a whole. This ethos of community impact lives and breathes within Mohammed’s own business practices. According to Mohammed, his biggest accomplishment was during the peak of the COVID outbreak. Big name stores had run out of masks and cleaning supplies but through Uptown Deli, he was able to supply these vital resources to the Uptown community, specifically to the elderly community. Mohammed felt a sense of pride in being able to provide for the community.

As a lifelong Northsider, Mohammed has witnessed and experienced the changes of the neighborhood. Mohammed states, “It seems there are more people investing in our community whether that be renovating existing historical buildings, more green spaces, or more people moving to the neighborhood. It’s only up from here for Uptown! My hope for my business is to stay in Uptown and serve the community for many years to come. Maybe one day when I have kids, they can take over the business from me and continue to serve the community.” If you’re in the neighborhood and looking for a business with great customer service, unique products, and fresh produce from all over the world, and deliciously crafted sandwiches, stop by and say hello to Mohammed at Uptown Deli.

Uptown Bikes

Maria Barnes’ Uptown story began in 1991 when she arrived to work as a volunteer at REST Shelter through Passionist Lay Missioners. Following her year of service, Maria prolonged her stay and eventually made Uptown her home. Uptown Bikes, originally known as Urban Bikes, would open its doors two years later in 1993 by Maria’s partner, Tim Herlihey. Originally located at a small storefront on Leland Avenue, they eventually moved around the corner to 4653 N. Broadway in 1996 after purchasing the building. Maria officially took reigns of the business as Tim retired in 2004.

What originally kept Maria in Uptown was its diversity. The 4600 N Broadway block where Uptown Bikes is located is a microcosm of the neighborhood’s larger mosaic. The block alone is home to long-time immigrant, family-owned businesses –from Dalia to Afrikiko to Gigio’s. Even the newcomers to the block – Sky Beverage Depot and In-On Thai – are immigrant owned businesses. “The uniqueness of this block and my business as part of this community is that we’re all people of color, we’re immigrants, we have independent family businesses, we really know our neighbors and our fellow business people, and our customers, of course. Everybody’s product caters to our community,” Maria states.

Uptown Bikes is women owned, women led, which adds another layer of diversity to the block. “I think it’s important for people to see us because we make up a good chunk of the customer base. It is good to have representation,” says Barnes. Maria and her team—Leah and Nina—are hyper focused on customer accessibility and customer service and try to provide value to their customers. They strive to develop relationships in order to create customer loyalty, which defines the culture at Uptown Bikes. Maria believes that women owned, women led businesses “offer a different customer experience to people in terms of retail and leadership. Women business leaders have a vision that is holistic; we try to understand why things are the way they are and try to change things that need to be changed. Our business has adapted and flowed with the changes of Uptown.”

As a resident and business leader of over 30 years, Maria has experienced Uptown’s changes and the challenges that come with it. From demographic shifts to the Wilson Red Line reconstruction project to COVID-19, Maria has had to not only internally acclimate to the trials and tribulations that impacted her business, but also build partnerships and collaborations in order to sustain. As an Uptown United board member and an Uptown Chamber of Commerce chamber member, Maria believes that both organizations are a great resource in terms of really promoting businesses, and creating vast outreach to people that normally wouldn’t view Uptown as a destination. As the Uptown Chamber of Commerce celebrates its Centennial celebration this year, Maria states, “great accomplishment to be to be relevant for 100 years and my biggest wish for the Chamber is that they continue to strive to be relevant in the changing community and really focus on thoughtful business development and continue to support small independent businesses, specifically those owned by people of color and immigrants.”

When posed with the question of what she hopes for Uptown’s future, Maria reiterated the idea of what kept her in the neighborhood so many years ago. “I want to see more people of color move to Uptown. I want to see the people of color that have lived here for generations, stay. People always describe Uptown as diverse. Any kind of power in the way a neighborhood develops, the focus should be on how we keep our immigrant, people of color population from all economic levels here and support it. That is really how you can then earn that designation as being diverse. I hope that people who come to this community grow when they get here; just opens their minds and hearts to cultures, stories, and histories of other people.”

Klein’s Bakery

Jessica Klein’s baking journey began long before opening the doors of Klein’s Bakery in Uptown’s Buena Park neighborhood. Raised by her grandmother who owned a bakery in Venezuela, Jessica and her sister learned the craft of baking at a very young age. Although Jessica was a dentist back in her home country and her sister an accountant, upon arriving to the U.S. they had to shift careers. Moving to the U.S. in 2015 and making Uptown their home, they worked their way through the food service industry at local favorites North Buena Wine & Deli and Michael’s Pizzeria. After two years, Jessica and her family realized their dream and opened the doors of Klein’s Bakery 4155 N Broadway N. Broadway.

Jessica would always pass the corner of Buena and Broadway and notice the empty storefront and she knew that the location would be the future home of Klein’s Bakery. “We started looking for a place and this corner was empty, we saw this place available, and I wanted to stay here. I lived at Hazel and Buena and I never checked out any other neighborhood…its the only place that we knew since we moved here, so we feel like family, you know?,” says Klein.

Upon entering the café, you’ll notice that the menu offers American breakfast menu items alongside Venezuelan specialty pastries, cakes, and desserts. “Mostly in our dessert area, they are all inspired by the Venezuelan culture”, says Klein. What you’ll see is cachito, a savory pastry stuffed with ham, cheese, and often times turkey, usually eaten for breakfast back in Venezuela. They also offer golfeados, a cinnamon roll type dessert with a bed of cheese and anise seed on top, and a Venezuelan variation of tres leches cake. These items have become very popular in the neighborhood with many non-Venezuelans always picking up cachitos and golfeados for the go or dine-in. “We are very proud of brining your culture because Venezuelan culture wasn’t well know here in the U.S. until about five years ago…not many people knew about Venezuelan culture and food…we were one of the pioneers, one of the first businesses that opened and offered Venezuelan food,” says Klein. Customers, old and new, always are eager to try new Venezuelan pastries Jessica puts on the menu, and that level of support has led to Klein’s Bakery’s success in the neighborhood.

Although the café is thriving now, it did not come without challenges. Being not only immigrants, but also women moving to a new country, along with COVID-19 for the last few years, it took extra determination to succeed. Jessica believes that you need to find yourself encouraged to do it, to be strong and capable of doing everything and face each obstacle you may face. “Nowadays in this society, we get to prove that as women we can do everything. Not only as a Latina owned businesses, but as a women owned businesses to show that we can empower every other woman that wants to be an entrepreneur that it is possible and you can do it,” says Klein. Jessica often shares this encouragement to her female staff as always tell them that if they have a dream of becoming an entrepreneur, of opening a business, is to do everything with love. Love what you are doing and if you do it with love, and you are constant and with discipline, you can achieve everything; just believe that you can do it and never give up.

Jessica Klein never gave up and her business is a mainstay in the Uptown, Buena Park community that she calls home. What she loves about the Uptown community is people’s commitment to their neighborhood. As a chamber member since her business’ inception, she underscores this support as the Uptown Chamber and Uptown United has always “supported us since we opened…they always promote us on social media, which helps us a lot because you get people in the community to know about us,” says Klein. As the Uptown Chamber approaches 100 years, Jessica wishes for its continued effort to make Uptown a great community and to improve every single year. It is working with businesses like Jessica’s that make Uptown the beautiful mosaic, vibrant, and thriving neighborhood that it is. Be sure to stop by Klein’s for their delicious Venezuelan pastries!

Black Ensemble Theater

Photo Credit:  Ashabi Owagboriaye

“Black history is American history. African Americans developed this country on our backs for free, for over 300 years. That’s three centuries”, says Jackie Taylor, the founder, executive artistic director, and CEO of Black Ensemble Theater. She founded the Black Ensemble Theater 46 years ago after spending time in the film industry. In 1975, while starring in the film Cooley High, Jackie Taylor was propelled into the international film arena during what was known as the Black exploitation era where a lot of African American films made were full of degradation to Black culture; full of violence, full of negativity and lies. “When I made Cooley High, I thought that it was a breakthrough movie…and that was the kind of movies I thought I was going to make, however, the industry did not have that mind,” said Taylor. Jackie was an educator and had taught thousands of young people about loving themselves and the greatness within themselves and she felt that if those youth had seen the type of films the industry wanted for her, the youth would not be able to tell the difference between Miss Taylor the actress and Miss Taylor the teacher. That would have destroyed everything that she had done in terms of trying to motivate her young folk to do better and make better decisions in their lives. Although the door closed on her aspirations in the film industry, she knew she had to do something else. “I decided I was going to start a theater because that’s what I knew, that’s what I studied in school. That’s how the Black Ensemble Theater got started,” Taylor expressed.

Growing up in the Cabrini Green neighborhood of Chicago, Jackie Taylor felt it was important to be located on the Northside because if she was going to have a theater that’s going to eradicate racism, you must be able to attract all kinds of cultures. First starting in Old Town, with a few more stops along the way, Black Ensemble Theater eventually found its permanent home in Uptown in 2011 at 4550 N Clark Street. From the beginning until now, the Black Ensemble Theater’s mission is to eradicate racism and its damaging effects upon our society. They do this through utilizing theater arts and education outreach programs to bring races together in a community that embraces similarities and fosters dialogue, understanding and acceptance. Jackie Taylor believes “what we can do is to educate ourselves, understand and recognize our own biases and how we support the negativity, the racism, the oppression. If you’re doing nothing about it, you’re supporting it. We got to do our homework.”

For the last four decades, Jackie Taylor and the Black Ensemble Theater have been doing just that, providing education and homework to those to learn more and expand their minds in hopes of eradicating racism, but their vision doesn’t end there. Jackie has spearheaded the Free to Be Initiative, a corridor wide vision of taking the mission of the Black Ensemble Theater outside of the theater walls and place it into the community so that there is a continuation of the impactful work that they do. “We’re building an education arts center for the performing arts, a film and technology center, recording studio. We’re going to have restaurants, cafes, green space to just hang out in. There will also be affordable housing for artists,” says Taylor.

When asked about the long-term vision and impact of the Free to Be Initiative, Jackie Taylor stated that she envisions all kinds of cultures, people of all ages, folks from different walks of life working together, learning from each other. Moreso, she believes the impact of this corridor wide initiative providing the resources, not just in terms of arts, but also health. She believes that this initiative will help people to live a healthy, full, and holistic life with arts as the foundation.

Jackie Taylor has great hope and faith for the future of not only the corridor she is building, but Uptown as a larger community, and its youth specifically. She believes one of the key strengths of Uptown as a community is in its diversity. We have many cultures, different ethnicities, and that’s what Taylor believes the Free to Be corridor will reflect. As for the next generation of youth, she thinks our younger generation, seeing what they see and experiencing what they experience, they will be the ones who rise up and make the change happen sooner than later. Taylor feels that the Free to Be Initiative is going to provide opportunities for our youth in Uptown. “I have great faith. And that’s what I move in. I move in faith. I don’t move in fear, even though, you know, fear is there,” says Taylor. As parting words of wisdom for others who wish to carry on the mission of eradicating racism and fighting against injustices, Jackie Taylor shares, “First of all, you’re needed. You are purposeful. You are seeds planted to make the world better. Continue to use your passion and continue to understand that if you lose your faith you have lost. No matter how bleak it looks, no matter how many losses you might have, just the fact that you exist and you’re doing the work is vital. And small seeds grow into mighty trees. Keep fertilizing. Keep seeding.”

The Haitian American Museum of Chicago (HAMOC)

Photo Credit: Wesley P. Le

The Haitian American Museum of Chicago (HAMOC) is one of the first institutions to be part of Jackie Taylor’s Free to Be Initiative, but the museum’s beginnings stretch much further back. Founded by Ms. Elsie Hector Hernandez in 2012, the museum’s mission is to promote and preserve Haitian art, culture, history and community. Ms. Hernandez had the dream to create an institution that would hold programs and exhibits that will contribute to the rich multicultural tapestry that is Chicago. Since it’s birth, the museum has hosted a wide array of programs and exhibits showcasing Haiti’s rich culture and art as well as its complex history. Carlos Bossard, the Director of Programs and Museum Practice shares that even though HAMOC is a museum, they’re doing a lot more than museum work. Carlos points out that “with the programs exhibits, community engagement and now even being a part of the Legal Protection Fund where the museum can help undocumented and immigrant individuals get referrals to the National Immigrant Justice Center, HAMOC is truly that epicenter for Haitian community.”

Chicago’s connection to Haitian culture extends much further back with Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable being the first non-indigenous settler of the City of Chicago, coming to the area and starting one of the first trading posts. This early Haitian history in Chicago is Black history and the importance of HAMOC as a cultural space that preserves, archives, and collects an ethnic specific kind of cultural gives people a place to claim as their own in this city. Through the conduit of art, identity is shaped, forged. Carlos Bossard mentions that a lot of families from the Haitian diaspora visit the museum to be able to gain education, knowledge about their culture – where they can really start to education, teach, and show other generations what art, metalwork, woodwork, religious themes looked like – to see Haiti in a very vibrant and resilient manner going against the very real life narrative that is portrayed on the news. “This takes away from the violence, takes away from the sadness even just for a moment, to showcase a culture that has a huge connection to Chicago and a lot of folks here in the city just gives them a moment to be” states Bossard.

Education and knowledge of Haitian culture, of Black culture extends beyond just the diaspora, and this was one of the reasons why Elsie Hernandez chose Uptown as home for HAMOC. Uptown is an immigrant community, an arts and cultural district, and she saw that there were a lot of similarities in what her values were for the museum. Accessibility for not only the people of the culture – Haitian communities in the surrounding Chicagoland area – but also for people who are around that are not Haitian to have a chance to be educated and to learn. Carlos Bossard believes HAMOC establishing itself as a community anchor in the larger Free to Be Initiative corridor in Uptown underscores the museum’s efforts in centering community, centering education. Bossard mentions, “Jackie Taylor, building the corridor and just having this idea of something that lives past all of us…to continue to rethink how to do it in ways that is purposeful, meaningful and will bring in the communities that want to engage new people, old people to spaces that are really of, by and for these community centered organizations…it shows that we strive to find a place.”

HAMOC, in their new home along Clark Street, continues to create programming that engages a wide audience. Something that Elsie has always pushed for is having this open-door policy where really anyone from any walk of life can come to the space and feel at home; they should feel like this place is also theirs while also learning together. HAMOC’s upcoming programming for the year, A Passport to Haiti, is a 4-part immersive program which highlights different cultural aspect of the culture, aims to do just that. March will focus on cuisine and drink, April, Vodou and culture, May will shine a light on art making and the Haitian Flag, and June will explore performative Haitian style dance (Konpa). Bossard believes “with more hands, the workload is lighter… and that we really are stronger together when we all put our mind to something to make that much needed change, especially here in Uptown, in Chicago.”

Pho Loan

Loan Nguyen, hailing from a line of cooks in Vietnam, and her husband, Quang Le, took the long route to realizing their dreams of becoming restaurateurs in the United States. The two came to the United States in 1995 and lived in California for one year before moving to Chicago. With limited resources and a need to make a living to support their family, both Loan and Quang worked in the nail industry as nail technicians. Their true passion has always been to follow their family’s footsteps in showcasing Vietnamese cuisine as cooks and restaurateurs. After years of building financial stability, the couple had the opportunity to realize their dreams when they opened Pho Loan in 2014 at 1114 W. Argyle Street.

“I decided to open my business in this area because it is the hub of Vietnamese culture and community and felt that by opening my business here would add to its continued growth and prosperity.” Loan states. As the name of their restaurant indicates, Phở is their specialty, but they serve much more than that. From traditional rice dishes like Cơm Bẩy Món Bặc Liêu, a rice dish with seven toppings, to Bún Thịt Nướng, a grilled pork vermicelli cold noodle dish, the menu is extensive. But it is the Lunar New Year where special items are seen at the restaurants. According to Loan, “Lunar New Year is the most important holiday to the Vietnamese people. During Lunar New Year, my business specializes in selling traditional Lunar New Year food items like Bánh Tét (glutinous savory rice cakes), Dua Mon (pickled vegetables), Giò Thủ (Vietnamese headcheese). During this time of year, we welcome and cater to visitors near and far who come to this area to celebrate the Lunar New Year celebrations and attend the annual parade.” By offering traditional Lunar New Year food items at their business allows for people to experience a part of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year culture and heritage. Loan “hopes that by inviting people who come from near and far to experience this, it will bring the larger community more support, prosperity, and good fortune for the years ahead.”

When asked if she has any hopes and dreams for this year of the rabbit/cat, Loan stated that her wish for this Lunar New Year for the Argyle community is for it to become a stronger, more prosperous community. With continued and further support from customers, local organizations, and the city, she hopes to see this area build up, develop further, and thrive into the future. From the owners of Pho Loan, “This Lunar New Year, we at Pho Loan wish the Vietnamese community and the Asia on Argyle community a year of good health and a year where all your wishes come true! To our customers, we wish you all prosperity and for your continued support of not only our business but the whole Asia on Argyle community!”

Stop by Pho Loan located at 1114 W Argyle Street to pick up traditional Vietnamese Lunar New Year food items (while supplies last!).

Hon Kee

For over 40 years, Paul Tsang, the owner of Hon Kee BBQ & Seafood, has experienced Lunar New Year celebrations on Argyle. He and his family opened their restaurant in 1981 and have remained a mainstay of the community since then. Specializing in Hong Kong barbeque – roasted duck, chicken, and pork –  and much more, Hon Kee provides those within the diaspora specialized Lunar New Year food items for dine-in and carry-out. Aside from his special Lunar New Year roasted meats, Paul mentions that the grocery stores around the area also sell important food items like mandarin oranges and candies that signify good luck and good fortune for the coming year.

If you ask Paul or any other business and community leader in the community, Lunar New Year to the Argyle community is one of the most important holidays for the Asian diaspora in this community. The significance of the Lunar New Year is that it brings in a new spirit – things like progress, good luck, good health are looked for in welcoming the new year. Each animal of the Chinese zodiac represents something specific for that new year.

According to Paul, Lunar New Year celebrations first started in the area in 1974 when the Hip Sing Association made Argyle Street their home. There’s been a parade to commemorate the Lunar New Year from 1974-1975 all the way up until now. The traditional lion and dragon dance are key components of the Lunar New Year Parade as they have cultural significance. Paul mentions that when the lions visit a local business, it signifies the sweeping away of bad luck and spirits and replacing it with good luck and prosperity in the new year for the business owners. Luck extends beyond the traditional lion dance. There are also the red envelopes. Wrapping money in red envelopes is expected to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receivers. “It is a traditional thing in our community. This all is to bring good spirits to the community in the new year”, states Paul.

When asked what he looks forward to in the Year of the Rabbit for his business and the larger Argyle community, Paul hopes the Argyle community gets stronger and stronger. “You can see the parade, even last year with the pandemic, lots of people, a few thousand people, came out and supported local businesses.” Paul believes that with the continued support of visitors and customers, from local organizations like the Uptown Chamber and Uptown United, along with the Alderman’s office and the city, the area will continue to grow and flourish.

One of the strengths Paul witnesses within the Argyle community is in its diversity. “Asia on Argyle now is very diverse. We have Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese businesses, and some Indian businesses that make up the diverse Asia on Argyle community.” The Asia on Argyle community is a place where you can come and try a lot of different kinds of cuisines and experience culture. As for Lunar New Year wishes, Paul Tsang wishes “everyone in this diverse community to continue to help each other to make the community safe and stronger.”

Hon Kee BBQ & Seafood is located at 5009 N Winthrop Ave. To get a taste of their specialized Hong Kong BBQ items, stop by after the Lunar New Year Parade this Saturday! Check out their full menu here


Photo Credit:  Wesley P. Le

For as long as Ellen Duong can remember, Argyle has always been a second home to her. After fleeing the Vietnam War in the early 1980s as boat people, Ellen’s parents found a community here on Argyle. It was welcoming and felt like home during a difficult time for them. Growing up on Argyle her whole life, she has fond childhood memories of getting egg tarts and juice boxes before going to preschool to watching the streets filled with families and children who looked just like her. Argyle, as a community, is a meeting place for people to feel safe, accepted, and proud of their cultural heritage and background. For her growing up, she felt accepted and a sense of belonging on Argyle that she did not feel anywhere else in Chicago.

As a legacy business in the area for over 20 years, Qideas has now passed down to her. She feels an immense responsibility to give back to the community that helped raise her. Qideas is her love letter to Argyle, the Vietnamese diaspora and her family. As a 2nd generation business owner, she states that it has been a tough and interesting time to have a business in Argyle. Argyle has experienced a lot of change over the last eight years and it has been extremely difficult to continue to maintain a legacy business here.

Despite these challenges, there is hope leading into the Lunar New Year. For Ellen, Lunar New Year and its celebrations are a way for her to feel connected to her culture. She enjoys paying respect to traditions and getting excited to celebrate something that is uniquely special to her. The Year of the Rabbit/Cat is expected to be a year of patience as we leave behind the fighting fierce Year of the Tiger. Ellen is looking forward to continuing to build, advocate, protect, and support AAPI history and stories in the Asia on Argyle community.

Be sure to stop by Qideas, located at 1134 W Argyle Street during the Lunar New Year Parade this Saturday to support this legacy business that has contributed to the identity of Argyle over the last two decades. According to Ellen Duong, “We have Year of the Rabbit trinkets to commemorate, don’t miss out or you’ll have to wait 12 years to see it again! And to a year of patience, compassion and working together!”