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Izola's Founder Laments End of Her Famous Chatham Restaurant

By Wendell Hutson | August 6, 2013 8:39am
 Entrepreneur Izola White, 90, now calls a South Chicago senior facility home after living and owning a restaurant in Chatham for more than 40 years.
Izola White
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CHATHAM —These days Izola White calls the Victory Center in South Chicago home.

After living in Chatham and owning the famous Izola's restaurant, 522 E. 79th St., for more than 40 years, the 90-year-old entrepreneur was relocated to the senior citizens building in July when she became a ward of the court, said DeWayne Mason, a Chicago police officer who is White's legal guardian.

"I did everything I could to keep her in her home and to resurrect her business, but in the end things did not work out as I had hoped," Mason said. "I hate to see her like this after all those years of helping people and giving back to the community."

The change of residence is not something White plans to get used to, she said. The former restaurateur said she has no relatives.

"I want to go home. This is not where I want to spend my last years. I have a home to go to and that is where I am trying to get back to as soon as possible," White said Monday during a visit to the supportive living facility where she now resides.

"Don't get me wrong. The people here are real nice to me, and I have my own room and bathroom," she said. "But there is no place like home."

Mason said he plans to sell White's home in the 8700 block of South Calumet Avenue to cover her bills.

"Even though she is living in a senior home, there are legal bills that still need to be satisfied," Mason said. "And the only way I see that happening is to sell her remaining assets, namely her home. I am also trying to sell all the restaurant equipment she has stored away."

According to Mason, attorney fees for the handling of her case in probate court exceed $5,000, and because he was unable to secure a live-in caretaker for White, the court ordered that she be placed in a senior home.

"Izola can be stubborn sometimes. She was picky about who to let live with her when there weren't many choices to begin with," Mason said. "I did what I could to maintain her way of life, but the reality is she can no longer live on her own."

He said White's only income is a monthy Social Security check now going to the senior home.

"I have no money, no family and no bank account. I am all alone at this place," White said. "God knows my heart, and he knows I would do more to help myself if I could, but I can't, and I need help getting back on my feet."

In 1940 White opened the restaurant, which became the fourth black-owned business to open along 79th Street, according to Chicago historian Timuel Black. The restaurant closed in March of 2011 after White fell ill and left management in the hands of "incompetent people," she said.

White's restaurant was replaced in May by Luversia's, another black-owned soul food restaurant.

During the restaurant's heyday, White was an active member of the local business community, said Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association.

"Her presence along 79th Street is missed greatly. I wish there was more the CBA could have done to help save her business," added Kelly.

A September 2011 fundraiser for White netted $12,000, but $35,000 was needed for a caretaker, attorney fees, back rent for the restaurant, storage fees and living expenses, said Mason, who blamed black politicians for ducking out on White when she needed their help. He said the $12,000 went toward some of those expenses.

“It saddens me that not one black elected official stepped up for her. Many of them ate at her restaurant for free, and now when she needed help the most they let her down,” said Mason. “I am upset at how all this went down from the mismanagement of the restaurant to the lack of leadership by black politicians.”

Among the black politicians who attended the September fundraiser were state Sen. Donne Trotter, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes White’s home and former restaurant, former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., and Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dorothy Brown.

Izola, said Brown, "has meant a lot to me personally."

"I wish there were more I could do to help her because what she started years ago has turned into a community mainstay,” Brown said.