Oooh that’s it! Owner, Mark Walker
The owner of a local business, Mr. Mark Walker, can easily be described as a visionary and innovator. His brand, Oooh Wee It Is !, reflects Walker’s dedication, hard work and service to his customers and the Chicago community. Due to his continued commitment and business expertise, he is one of this year’s recipients of the Chicago Defender Men of Excellence Awards.
Kitchen and business bugs
Walker said he had always had an interest in going into the restaurant business. His mother, the late Reverend Maxine Walker, was one of his biggest influences. “My mom was very knowledgeable about starting businesses and developing long-standing relationships with professionals and community leaders. She was an ordained minister, businesswoman, counselor, and community organizer who loved to prepare elaborate and moving home-cooked meals for her friends and special guests. The Rev. Jessie Jackson, Jr. and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan were two of his closest friends, ”he said. Walker considers Mr. Kham Beard (of former Kham and Nate) another close family friend, as a mentor who helped shape his entrepreneurial foundation.
As his interest in catering grew, Walker briefly attended Washburne Culinary School. “Cooking did not interest me, I knew how to cook. Instead, I was interested in the art of preparing dishes, ”he explained. With his love of cooking, he and his wife began to develop recipes for dishes, such as Oooh Wee’s oxtails and roasts, and their famous Oooh Wee tea, all customer favorites. Walker said, “Cooking is about seasoning food to taste – don’t cook food for yourself, cook it for other people. “
Oooh Wee on the rise
As a long-time member of the Chatham community, it’s no surprise that Walker and his wife, Shae Walker, have chosen to bring the Oooh Wee brand “home”. Earlier this year, the Oooh Wee It Is! restaurant-restaurant open in the Chatham community. Since then, the restaurant has become a rapidly growing gem of the community, bringing patrons from all over Chicago to enjoy brunch or dinner and listen to live music a few days a week. Walkers also have an Oooh Wee It Is! restaurant located in Burnham, Illinois.
Walker noted that there are plans to open two more restaurants over the next three months – in the community of Wicker Park in North and Damen and in the community of Beverly in 111.e and Longwood. The Wicker Park location will serve the same foods as other restaurants and will offer both in-place and take-out food service, as well as a full bar. The Beverly location will be a delivery and catering location. In addition, two mobile hotboxes and a food truck are planned. Due to this tremendous growth, a job fair is scheduled for Monday August 30e 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Chatham restaurant located at 33 E. 83rd Street.
Walker provided he strongly believes in giving back to the community. Her community work includes working with My Block, My Hood to provide care packages and meals to area seniors for Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. In addition, Walker regularly participates in community outreach activities, advocates and provides mentorship to teens and young adults, including his restaurant team. Additionally, because he is committed to working with the Alderman and the Chatham community to resolve restaurant issues, Walker said he is developing a community team to help resolve issues and concerns.
Building contractors and business owners
Over the past 18 months, we have seen many people lose their jobs and their businesses. Yet in this same period, many small businesses were developed. Yet many members of the black community are unable to obtain financing or do not know how to obtain financing for their businesses. I asked Walker what he believed to be one of the issues affecting the black community in becoming entrepreneurs and business owners. He replied that “one of the problems is the lack of information and the people who cling to the information. There is no way that a person interested in going into business would have to go down a ‘dark alley’ to find it, ”he said. Additionally, “There is an assumption circulating that you need a lot of money, a good credit rating, a perfect education, years of wisdom under your belt, and more,” did he declare. Walker added: “The key is to start – at any level that looks like – just start.” Walker further stated that “it is our responsibility to share information, participate in financial literacy programs and teach our children about financial responsibilities so that they develop entrepreneurial skills.”
The Oooh Wee it is! the restaurants are located at 33 Est 83rd Street and 2208 E. State Street, Burnham, IL. For more information, call 872-244-7505 or visit www.ooohweeitis.org.
Donna Hammond is a writer and seminarian. Follow her on Twitter @ deelois623 and on Facebook, DeeLoisSpeaks.