Bronzeville Winery

Bronzeville Winery proprietors Eric Williams and Cecilia Cuff pose in front of 4420 S. Cottage Grove Ave., the storefront that is being built out for the restaurant. 

With $250,000 in financial assistance on top of even more help from the city, the Bronzeville Winery, a full-service restaurant headed by The Silver Room's Eric Williams and businesswoman Cecilia Cuff, is coming this summer to Cottage Grove Avenue.

"I definitely want to say thank you to the community for their support. Again, this is the only way that we can be successful,” Cuff said at an April 28 groundbreaking. “This is a project that is for us, by us and that we want to actually resonate throughout the whole entire world.”

She said the restaurant will be more than a restaurant, and that she and Williams "are committed to developing the next generation of entrepreneurs." That includes an in-house program to train local talent to own their own restaurants and run their own kitchens.

"I think for Eric and me, the idea that entrepreneurship can bring a sense of reciprocity in communities is a really important idea."

Workers will also have access to a paycheck match program, which will encourage neighborhood home ownership.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in her remarks, said the Bronzeville Winery embodies the success of her administration's Neighborhood Opportunity Fund — with money taken from downtown developments for recipients on the South, Southwest and West sides (excluding Hyde Park and Kenwood), from whence the $250,000 came — and the INVEST South/West initiative.

Last October, Lightfoot cut the ribbon to 4400 Grove, the mixed-use development in which the winery is housed, with affordable and market-rate housing above on an initiative corridor, with Ald. Sophia King (4th) and other civic leaders.

INVEST South/West is $750 million in public commercial funding on 12 corridors in 10 communities that seeks to garner additional private and philanthropic investments. Last year, Lightfoot said $70 million was invested with a $300 million return.

Bronzeville and South Shore are two of those communities. The Bronzeville footprint extends over Kenwood but focuses mainly on Cottage Grove between 43rd and 47th and those streets west towards King Drive.

"What do you hear all the time from entrepreneurs? 'Lack of funding,'” Lightfoot said. “Access to capital is a significant challenge, and we have done everything that we can, and more to come, to make sure that we eliminate those barriers for Black and Brown entrepreneurs.”

The grant, she said, "helps creative entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds gain access to the capital, mentorship and other resources they need to get their projects off the ground." But Lightfoot said the city is providing holistic support, not simply saying, "Here's money, good luck."

Cuff is a hospitality industry veteran, having worked on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, in New Orleans and in Taos, New Mexico.

"For about 15 years, I spent my time moving around and seeing how much development and entrepreneurship can make an impact on a community, but it was never in my community," she said. "For us, it's paired with the will. It's paired with support from programs like INVEST South/West. I think I understand, and INVEST South/West understands, that there're multifaceted needs at the point when it comes to developing business."

There was help available, for instance, to set up expectations and project managers available to hold contractors accountable. But beyond that, they understood that they not only needed a grant, but that the grant was necessary "due to the lack of equity that comes from lending institutions and their inability to give loans."

"There's certain segments of people who get grants, and there're certain segments of people who get funding from banks, and there're certain segments of people who just get programs. I think the Black community needs more access to capital and fewer one-and-done programs," she said. "I think that the (Neighborhood Opportunity Fund) has displayed a deep understanding of that by assigning project managers, by creating general contractor allies, by creating people who were taking the call to action to be able to be that support in our communities."

Lightfoot, for her part, called on banks to finance Black-owned companies.

"It's not enough to have a mission statement,” she said. “It's not enough to say ‘you will do at some future date.’ Put your money where your mouth is now. Invest in these entrepreneurs."

She said banks in Chicago should be banks for the entire city and that she was holding the event in Bronzeville, among other South and West Side neighborhoods, "Because we want to demonstrate that we have skin in the game so we can attract others to have skin in the game."

And Cuff touted the Bronzeville Winery itself, which will have a custom sound system, house-grown greens, farm share-supplied produce and a wine list by Anika Ellison.

"We'll be able to offer an unparalleled experience that you would find in downtown Chicago, that you would find in downtown New York, that you would find anywhere, because we want to show people that Bronzeville, Chicago, is on-par with that," Cuff said.

"We want to not only accept our people from the restaurant, our people from the neighborhood, people who live above us, people who walk down the street, and show them that they can have a space that is created for us, by us. But additionally, we want people to come from other places, so that we can add to that sense of representation so they can walk in and see what a Black-owned eatery actually is."

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