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Virtue Shoebox Meals
Photograph: Lindsey Becker

This Chicago restaurant is serving ‘shoebox lunches’ with a side of Black history

Each boxed meal doubles as an important lesson for Black History Month.

By
Morgan Olsen
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Two Midwestern restaurants are teaming up on a revolutionary takeout special that honors Black History Month through food and education. The restaurant owners behind the collaboration—Chicago's Erick Williams (Virtue) and Detroit's Patrick Coleman (Beans & Cornbread)—have long admired each other's work. But it wasn't until Williams heard about Coleman's "shoebox meals" that the two connected.

The boxes are plastered in words and illustrations that depict Black trailblazers, historical moments and lessons on social justice. Coleman was inspired to create the containers after hearing about his mother and grandmother's experience riding the train during the Jim Crow era. Due to segregation, the women were not allowed to eat in the dining car, so instead, they packed their lunches in shoeboxes.

Virtue shoebox meals
Photograph: Lindsey Becker

Williams was so moved by the project that he reached out to Coleman to see if he'd be interested in teaming up for Black History Month. To his surprise, Coleman had been following his journey, too, and was happy to get the shoeboxes in front of Chicagoans.

"The story behind these shoeboxes provides people with a meaningful reminder of the resilience and resourcefulness of the Black community," Williams says. "It is fitting that these boxes, which depict powerful people and historical moments in American history, are housing a similarly powerful story that we are telling through food."

Both men are serving shoebox meals at their respective restaurants from February 17 to 28. Here in Chicago, Williams is filling the vessels with fried chicken, collard greens and hot sauce biscuits. It's a nod to Coleman's mother and grandmother, who often packed fried chicken for their train ride. Each meal is $22, and proceeds directly benefit the restaurants' teams. Guests will have the option to contribute additional funds if they wish.

Virtue Shoebox Lunches
Photograph: Lindsey Becker

Diners will receive their meal in one of two information-packed boxes. The "Jim Crow" box spotlights historical Black trailblazers like baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, aviator Bessie Coleman and NASA engineer Katherine Johnson. The "End Racism" box depicts present-day events—including the tragic death of Breonna Taylor—that have "led us to the pivotal moment we are now living in as Americans," Williams says.

Though the restaurants are separated by more than 250 miles, this Midwestern collaboration packs a serious punch that not only feeds and educates but also provides much-needed relief to two Black-owned businesses that have continuously rallied for their communities.

"These boxes are meant to give a lesson in American history and to illustrate that the issues the world is facing right now are not Black issues," Williams says. "They are issues of justice, of equity and of diversity for all—these issues affect every individual."

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