After six walks around the park interior and 20 some odd minutes later, my interview with Chicago restauranteur, Eric ‘Rico’ Nance was over. Somehow in those few minutes he made me feel like I could go take off running, right then and there, in the direction of my dreams. As one of five owners of the Litehouse and Mikkey’s Retro Grill establishments in Chicago, Rico and the rest of the Chicago taste-makers, “Mikkey Halsted” Nance, Dave Jeff, Freeland “Free” Payne, and Matthew “Toure” Brown have become known not just for their amazing food, but for their big hearts and community involvement. With Ursula threatening to bring in the feds every other day, here are five men of color: married, fathers, community leaders, proficient businessmen, sticking a middle finger to the stereotype that black men aren’t a benefit to society. So what makes them so special?
My question was answered when Rico explained how the idea for the brand came into existence. “I never set out to be a restaurant owner. Literally the idea came to me through a vision from God. I was 22, I had just banged up my knee, and my football dream was over, so I asked God what did he want me to do?” As we continued to walk I wondered how many times have I or any of us for that matter, asked God that question, but only wanted to hear the answer if it was constructed to the dream we had created for ourselves?
As Rico mentioned, he didn’t grow up wanting to be an entrepreneur. In fact, he was so sure that his neighbors weren’t going to college that he didn’t even bring it up when graduating because he didn’t want to seem like he was better than everyone else. So to go from not having a set vision, to being a leader for the community, he is proof that anyone can be successful if they have the proper guidance.
Those early seeds of asking for God’s direction has blossomed into multiple businesses that have been projected to expand to countless locations within the next 5-7 years; talk about reaping what you have sowed! Now my commentary isn’t to be too churchy in my examination of Rico and his business partners, but it is quite evident that whether you believe in Christ, or not, there is power in finding your purpose and not fighting your destiny. When I look at the model that these men have set, not only as businessmen but as mentors, it serves to remind everyone, to lend a helping hand to someone in need. The team is a testimony to this principle and most recently reached the milestone of giving away its 40,000th meal to the homeless.
The story of the success of Litehouse and Mikkey’s serves as proof that true change is evoked when people come together out the openness of their heart, and not the greed of their bank accounts. I project a grand future for the owners of Mikkey’s Retro Grill and Litehouse Whole Food Grill, where they’ll be lots more ribbon cuttings and photographer flashes. What is more, I project that they still will be the humble and fun-loving gentleman that they are now, always willing to reach out and help a neighbor. They make me smile every time I walk past their storefronts and if there was ever a restaurant I’d risk my diet for, Mikkey’s and Litehouse are it.
-Joi Has Questions-