Indoor dining capacity increased this month, which helps MacArthurs, the popular soul food restaurant on West Madison Street. But the increased capacity is far more helpful to other parts of Chicago that have more restaurants. “One of the things we’re fighting right now is the lack of opportunities to sit down in a restaurant” in Austin, said Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association.
Gritty storefronts, boarded-up gas station windows, graffiti-covered pavement and a plethora of fast food restaurants are the sights that will meet your eyes on a drive through one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. Located on the city’s West Side, Austin’s population is nearing 130,000, and as the population rises in what community activists call Chicago’s “forgotten child,” so do the number of fast food restaurants in a neighborhood that already lacks grocery stores and healthy sit-down options. Elce Redmond, assistant director of the South Austin Coalition, said business owners, specifically fast food restaurant owners, decided Austin wasn’t a community that wanted or would support anything but fast food. “For some reason, people have this idea that Austin can only sustain fast food restaurants,” he said. “I mean, no matter where you are in Austin, all you see are fast food joints.