Cooking Up Traditional Soul Food with a Twist in Chicago’s Famous Hyde Park Neighborhood
Businesswoman, Keisha Rucker, has cooking soul food in blood. Learning how to cook from her great-grandmother and sharing the tradition with the women in her family, she brings the recipes to life at Chicago’s favorite soul food restaurant, The Soul Shack. Located in the heart of the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago (1368 E. 53rd St.), where Keisha was born and lived all of her life, she deserves the nicknamed, Mz. Hyde Park. Get to know Keisha, why she’s passionate about her business, and why she loves cooking food that’s good food for the soul.
1) Why did you want to open up a soul food restaurant in Hyde Park?
I love cooking! It’s a tradition in my family passed down from my great-grandmother. Soul food is good. There are so many dishes I love to cook. I use recipes my great-grandmother shared with my grandmother, my mother, me, and now we share with my daughters. When location and idea were presented to me to open up a restaurant in Hyde Park, my neighborhood, where I grew up all of my life with my family, I had to say yes. I couldn’t pass it by.
2) How did you come up with the name of your restaurant, The Soul Shack?
My business partner Eric ‘Rico’ Nance and I were talking in his kitchen one night about the concept of the restaurant and what type of eateries needed in the neighborhood. Rico blurted out Soul Shack in a joking matter, and after laughing, we looked at each other, and we said, “Yes!” We added The, and it became The Soul Shack from that day forward.
3) What are some of the stand out dishes you serve, why are they famous?
Some of our signature dishes at The Soul Shack are our Jerk Cornish Hens, Lamb Chops, Grilled Salmon, and we’re famous all over for our Soul Rolls. In the area, we are the only restaurant to carry Jerk Cornish Hens seasoned to perfection, and you can have our Grilled Lamb Chops with jerk seasoning, adding a delicious grilled taste. Customers also add our Salmon to have surf ‘n turf. Soul Rolls are a soul food dinner inside of a roll, similar to an egg roll. The Soul Rolls comes with greens, candy yams, macaroni and cheese. Everyone that tries them really enjoys them. Our homemade cornbread is always good to add too.
4) As a black, female business owner, what challenges have you had to face during the pandemic and then riots?
The pandemic did hit our restaurant very hard. However, we have been able to keep our employees that wanted to continue to work and able to hire new staff. We did what we needed to do to keep the doors open by cutting back expenses even though food costs increased. During the pandemic, we lost more than half of our revenue. We just celebrated our first anniversary when we the COVID19 order from the state came down. But through God blessing us to have loyal customers, we have kept our doors open and our staff employed. When the riots and unfortunate looting happened in our neighborhoods, our business was only affected because we had to close our doors for the safety of our team, but we did not have any vandalism. We want to encourage all business owners to keep going and do what they can to stay in business, our communities need entrepreneurs to provide jobs, services, products and most of all examples to the next generation.
5) What inspires you?
I am inspired by the people I meet and the conversations we have. I learn so much every day from people. Meeting and networking with successful people inspires me to work hard to be my best, to be successful.
6) What do you want your business legacy to be?
I am working hard every day of my life to leave a legacy for my three beautiful, talented, and smart daughters. Each of them has their own goals and dreams in life that I support. I do my best to teach them by example. I encourage them always to do their best, work smart, and continue to be a blessing to others.
Photo Credit: Rich Boy Cartel