S2 Express Grill, Harvey's second full sitdown restaurant, marks the start of a new chapter in the city's restaurant scene
"It's been a long time coming," co-owners Andre and Suheir Williams said at the packed grand opening event.
Husband-and-wife restaurant owners Andre and Suheir Williams began penning a new chapter for Harvey this week. The duo own S2 Express Grill, a restaurant that offers a high-quality dining experience in a city with few sitdown restaurants.
The smell of steak dinners, surf and turf, smoked turkey leg dinners, and more permeated the air, the restaurant packed wall to wall with customers and city and state officials for the grand opening.
That wasn’t the scene last month. The Willliams family was working with a skeleton crew at their other locations — two in Chicago and another in Orland Park — struggling to get the word out about available job opportunities. The Harvey location, which was ready to open on 167th Street and Halsted for nearly three months, sat closed.
S2 is now Harvey’s second sitdown experience, joining Tequila Jalisco a mere eight blocks north. The city’s only Black-owned sitdown restaurant, S2 also represents hope that more investors and small business owners will see Harvey as a smart investment.
“God is good. We’re so happy to open something for the people here. It’s a pleasure to serve the community,” said Andre Williams.
After a television interview, nod from Congresswoman Robin Kelly, and a job fair announcement that went viral among Harvey residents, 150 people showed up to the S2 job fair in early January, and owners received over 400 applications.
Williams said that the couple likes to hire people from the communities they serve. “Our motto is we love to serve the underserved, and we know there’s no restaurant like this in Harvey. We can’t thank the city enough,” said Williams.
Intentionally setting up shop in communities with limited food options, the civil unrest of 2020 also deepened commitments to food deserts in the area. “Where others were cautious to return, we saw the opportunity to influence and encourage other businesses to come back to regenerate revenue for these areas, while empowering the people who live there with career opportunities,” their website reads.
S2 is now fully staffed at all locations, and opened their location in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood days after their Harvey grand opening. The menu is jam packed with vegan options, soul food, Italian, Mexican, and seafood – enough food for someone to try a different menu option every week of the year.
“The community’s been very receptive to this location. We’ve been doing awesome since the doors opened,” said Williams.
Harvey’s population has declined significantly over the past twenty years. The population dwindled by 20% over the past ten years, according to 2020 census data. The downward trend reflects county and statewide out-migration, largely of Black residents, due to a variety of factors, including lack of job opportunities.
A recent report from the Community Economic Development Association of Cook County that assessed the state of poverty in the Chicagoland area revealed Thornton township’s poverty rate among 18 to 64 years old’s is 19.80% — the highest of any township in the Chicago area for that age group.
Over the next three years, Cook County will be investing nearly $700 million, or 70%, of federal funds it received under the American Rescue Plan Act, in community programs across the area, including $100 million in economic development.
The building S2 now occupies has a history of not being able to keep long time tenants. Most recently, it was a Shark’s Fish & Chicken and a Burger King prior to that.
A gas station, storage facility, currency exchange, and strip club are a few amenities along Harvey’s dark, dim southernmost border. A five minute drive south along Halsted Street paints a different picture. In neighboring Homewood, Halsted is lit with major businesses like Wal-Mart, Jewel-Osco and restaurants like Boston Market.
Homewood and East Hazel Crest will now be home to a casino, sparking hope among some residents that anticipated economic activity will trickle north along Harvey’s southern border.
“The location was perfect. It’s a great city where everyone can be uplifted,” Williams said.
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