Startup Spotlight: Evelyn’s Food Love

In October 2014, a 34,000 square foot coworking space and facility opened up to not only serve all students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Chicago, but also to be a dedicated resource for innovators and entrepreneurs in the surrounding South Side community without a formal affiliation to the University. Operated by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago, the Polsky Exchange has hosted thousands of workshops, multiple cohorts of startups, and a variety of high profile speakers since opening its doors five years ago. 

To celebrate the many innovators who have been supported over the past five years, the Polsky Center will host a special entrepreneurship showcase on Wednesday, October 16 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. One company that will be featured at the event is Evelyn’s Food Love, a café and caterer that boasts dishes made with fresh ingredients and completely from scratch. Founder Evelyn Shelton is a graduate of Kendall College and when opening a restaurant, made the decision to bring it home to Washington Park. Her menu is complete with roasted chicken, fried catfish, lobster tails, cheesy grits and the kind of home cooking the neighborhood needed. Shelton’s hope was not only to fill the bellies of her neighbors but also encourage other businesses to invest in the community too. Evelyn Shelton was kind enough to sit with Polsky and share her experience of living out her dream while giving back. Evelyn’s Food Love is an alum of the Polsky Small Business Growth Program.

The Polsky Center was able to talk with Shelton about her plans for the future as well as look at the Polsky Center’s role in the company’s development.

Polsky: How did you first get involved in the Polsky Center?
Evelyn Shelton: I first became involved with the Polsky Center last year when my then lender, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), asked if I would speak at an event about my experience. The event was attended by former mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jaime Dimon from Chase. Chase was announcing that they would be investing quite a bit of money into to Entrepreneurs of Color Fund and as a result LISC and ACCION would be recipients of the investment to help spur development in underserved communities. I agreed to participate and was later asked to cater the event which I did. Later, I was informed about the Small Business Growth program and invited to become a participant.

Polsky: What challenges were you able to overcome as a result of Polsky resources?Evelyn Shelton:? I don’t know that I’ve overcome challenges, per se, however the resources at Polsky have been invaluable. One resource led me to an attorney who helped me to navigate legal documents required to enter into a licensing agreement. We opened Evelyn’s Food Love this past February inside of McCormick Place.

Polsky: How has the Polsky Center impacted your success?
Evelyn Shelton: Certainly being involved with Polsky has had an impact on my success. Having a space inside of McCormick, exposes Evelyn’s Food Love to people who we normally many not have been exposed to.

Polsky: What would you say to early-stage companies considering applying to the Small Business Growth program?
Evelyn Shelton: The Small Business Growth program is invaluable to early-stage companies. I worked with a team of brilliant young people who would routinely accomplish what it would have taken me days or weeks to accomplish because I just did not have the time. My team really understood what my concerns were and came back weekly with actionable recommendations to help me move forward. I am still in touch with the dynamic coach who led my team. She always followed up – even after the program ended. She has truly become a mentor and we meet for lunch every few months to catch up and discuss my progress.

Polsky: What do the next five years look like for Evelyn’s Food Love?
Evelyn Shelton: I am very hopeful that the next five years for Evelyn’s Food Love look precisely as I imagine: a great company that offers amazing food, using locally sourced products. A company that has grown to include more locations with an awesome staff. And more importantly, a company that gives back to the community through mentoring, job training, development, and employment that pays better than livable wages.

Polsky: What is your favorite Polsky memory?
Evelyn Shelton: I have more than one! Certainly attending and catering the event for Jaime Dimon. But also the evening when my team came over to the café for one of our meetings. They were able to see first-hand what I had created. I think it became even more apparent what, with their assistance, I was fighting for. And they absolutely rose to the occasion.


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