For aspiring entrepreneurs, the Windy City offers countless benefits: diverse populations, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, and a thriving small-business community. The success of businesses like natural hair care producer Thank God It’s Natural and widely acclaimed restaurant Mi Tocaya prove that Chicago’s women of color are making a name for themselves by being leaders in their industries. From young immigrants to former 9-to-5ers, the city supports the ventures of WOC from all walks of life. Here are some you should check out while shopping in Chicago.
Sweet Maple Cafe
1339 W Taylor St
Laurene Hynson never expected to open a restaurant, let alone become the restaurateur behind one of Chicago’s most beloved breakfast joints. In 1999, Hynson was working in the corporate world and wanted a way to express herself creatively while still making time for her young children. When the avid home cook happened upon a retail space in University Village, Sweet Maple Cafe was born. The menu, a collection of Hynson’s home-style family recipes, has everything from Southern-influenced egg entrees to endless grilled-cheese options to the city’s best applesauce.
614 W Belmont Ave
Long before K-Beauty seized the nation’s fascination, wallets, and Instagrams, South Korean native Leah Park was studying abroad in New York and educating her college friends on the wonders of Korean beauty products. It was only a matter of time till Park’s passion for skin care led her to open Choc Choc, a brick-and-mortar K-Beauty shop in Lakeview. Choc Choc, meaning “well-moisturized skin,” is a playground of sheet masks, serums, and essences that contain natural ingredients like honey and kale. With her impeccable skin, Park encourages guests to test out products and can answer all your side-eyed questions about how to use snail mucus.
3301 N Sheffield Ave
Inspired by news of bakeries refusing to serve wedding cakes to same-sex couples, Jennifer Vailoces opened Jennivee’s Bakery to fuse her two passions: baking and LGBTQ rights. Vailoces didn’t stop at creating a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for queer dessert lovers—it’s also a spot to fill up on Filipino desserts. She flaunts her Filipino roots with gems like the ube (purple yam) cakes and mango cream cupcakes that sit right alongside seasonal specials like the Main Squeeze lemon and Lucky Charm mint chocolate cupcakes.
Building Blocks Toy Store
6606 N Lincoln Ave
Since 1996, Katherine Nguyen McHenry and her “champions of play” have been at the helm of Building Blocks Toy Store. As a self-proclaimed “play ambassador” and retail aficionado, McHenry left the corporate world to pursue her goal of curating a retail space full of high-quality educational, developmental, and play-based products. For the kid in all of us, Building Blocks sells family-friendly games like Bananagrams and Apples to Apples, and for the clueless among us, the website has a gift guide based on age-appropriate developmental skills. The store’s carefully curated toys and books, bright displays, and special events make it the perfect place to shop for and with the children in your life.