Photo credit: Melanie L. Brown for Steed Media Service
What is your name? What is the history of Josephine’s Cooking restaurant?
My name is Victor Love. Captain’s Hard Time was the original name of this location. My mom, father and I came into partnership eight years ago and the name has been changed to Josephine’s Cooking in honor of my mother, Josephine Wade-Smith, and the work that she’s done in the restaurant as well as in this community. I just wanted to have something to have a continual legacy that this city will never forget her.
How long have you been here?
We’ve been here going on 30 years and it’s been a blessing to serve this community, things have changed. We were one of the premier restaurants in the city of Chicago.
What year was the business established?
In the ’80s we were established.
How did your mom open the restaurants?
My mother, Ms. Josephine, knows a lot of people in the city and my mom has been cooking for years, this is not her first restaurant. She had back in the early ’70s a restaurant lounge called Volume One, which was right on the corner of 75th and Dorchester. Even prior to that in the ’60s she had another smaller restaurant — her and and my aunt Evelyn — her older sister. They had a restaurant at 75th and the viaduct going just west of Dorchester. My mother also cooked for some well-known Italian “mobsters,” if you will. She was their personal cook for years. She has cooked for everybody, politicians, preachers, community organizations.
Why this location initially?
Well we owned another restaurant down the street. When she married my great stepdad, Reuben Smith, he had a seafood restaurant that was legendary way before your Sharks, and J&Js came along. He was Captain Smith’s Seafood. It would probably be considered the Black establishment for like compared to like a Lawrence Fisheries or Goose Island or Dicolas. He was that brand. Everything was fresh, hand-battered, fresh everything and because he was on 79th Street, my mother opted to put a restaurant on 79th Street in this building. It has a lot of history as well, this was the former Nation of Islam’s bakery, the famous Shabazz Bakery which we sit in now. As a result of the violence that has taken place throughout the city but in particular on 79th Street, we’ve lost a lot of business. People are afraid to come on 79th Street and from that I became the 79th Street Business Corridor president and with the hopes of uniting the other business owners along this corridor and that we will rally together, support each other and support public safety, cleanliness, quality businesses, and it’s worked. We got a lot more work to do but I see the favor of God coming back on this post smiling on it. We’re having people coming in from around the city wanting to come back and do business here at Josephine’s Cooking. I’m honored that they would consider us.
Who created the recipes?
Mother Wade creates the recipes. Mother Wade is my mother’s affectionate name in the community. Her name is Josephine Wade-Smith. However she’s a mother to the city. If you say Mother Wade everybody knows who you’re talking about. These are my mom’s recipes. Some of them are her own creations and some of them were passed down through my grandmother, Margie Wade.
What’s one of the favorite dishes that people come to Josephine’s to eat?
I think we have some of the best fried chicken in the city of Chicago. I know we have a lot of legendary and popular chicken outlets or restaurants. I think we don’t take a backseat to anybody with our fried chicken. We also do an amazing blackened catfish. My mother makes an awesome shrimp bisque soup, with her own recipe. We were doing chicken & waffles here way before it became popular with some of the other establishments.
What is your favorite meal?
The Sunday brunch.
What is the Sunday brunch?
The Sunday brunch is where we have an all-you-can-eat brunch that we were probably the only brunch in the city of Chicago definitely on the South Side for well over 25 years. Now it’s starting to be a little bit more popular and other people are now trying it. However, we probably set the record on being consistent with having a brunch every Sunday, all you can eat. We have 4 or 5 or 6 different options of meats, 6 or 7 different sides, 5 or 6 different salads, 3 to 4 different types of desserts, along with our famous sweet tea that we provide you with. At various times we have live entertainment for some of the brunches.
Any famous patrons?
Sammy Davis Jr.’s wife was hosted here for an event one time. Robert Townsend has been here. One of my mother’s favorites sits right in that booth over there [points] — Ms. Aretha Franklin. This is her favorite restaurant. Whenever she comes to town she calls my mother and if she doesn’t make it to this restaurant, she makes my mother bring it to her.
What typically does Aretha Franklin order?
Aretha loves my mother’s gumbo and her fried chicken.
What are your plans for the future for Josephine’s Cooking?
We’re hoping to remodel and bring it up to a more current look and appeal that we may draw in that younger generation who spends a lot of money, as you know.