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Barbecue restaurant, other new businesses open in Miller
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Barbecue restaurant, other new businesses open in Miller

Several new businesses have opened in Gary's resurgent Miller neighborhood, including a real estate office, an art gallery, a stained glass studio and a barbecue restaurant that is also a deli, bakery, and coffee shop.

Miller Beach Arts & Creative District Executive Director Meg Roman said a total of 10 new businesses have opened in Gary's artsy lakefront neighborhood — where many Chicagoans have summer homes — during the past two years. At least two to three more businesses are expected to open this year, including a restaurant that's slated for the shuttered Brasserie coffee shop.

The neighborhood hit a rough patch in 2010, when the landmark fine dining restaurant Miller Bakery Cafe closed. But arts initiatives such as a new gallery and a graffiti mural program, plus the arrival of 18th Street Brewing in 2013, have led to a surge of redevelopment. The Lake Street business corridor is now lined with new businesses, including boutiques, art galleries and a juicery, and Miller Bakery Cafe reopened.

"People who haven't been here in a while are pleasantly surprised at how interesting the area has gotten," Roman said.

While engaged Miller residents have been leading the revitalization efforts in their neighborhood, the city also is planning to spur on redevelopment there. There are plans to upgrade the South Shore Line station to have a raised platform and to bring in transit-oriented development. Several efforts are also aimed at citywide revitalization, including architectural preservation, an artist-led streetlight project, and Theaster Gates's ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen downtown.

Vacant storefronts have been vanishing in Miller. Recently opened businesses include Godwin Realty Company, Wonderland Stained Glass, Painted Board Studio and Big Ben's Bodacious Barbecue & Deli.

Wonderland Stained Glass and Big Ben's Bodacious Barbecue & Deli opened in the former Marquette Perk coffee shop space at 900 N. Shelby Street, which was most recently home to Miller Vintage Kitchen. 

Lelia Edwards opened the stained glass studio with fellow stained glass artists Alice Sasak and Jack Rowe, and then opened the adjoining barbecue restaurant with her husband Michael Watkins and their son Ben Watkins.

"(My husband) loves to barbecue," Edwards said. "We have smoked meats, chicken, brisket, pulled pork, rubs and barbecue sauces. The most popular are ribs, rib tips and beef brisket. ... Our area just had a need for it. In Chicago every neighborhood has its own barbecue, and that was lacking here."

To fill the void left by the departure of Marquette Perk, Big Ben's functions as a coffee shop when it opens at 7 a.m., and then starts serving barbecue at 11 a.m. It can seat between 25 and 30 people, and also does catering.

The attached Wonderland Stained Glass makes customized decorative glass, has a monthly craft and cocktail night, and hosts a variety of classes, including for silversmithing, bead making, jewelry making and of course bead making. They can run from $40 for an afternoon seminar to $125 for a five-week class.

"I love teaching, and by opening up the shop and workspace I can teach and share the arts with others," Edwards said. "I get inspired by my students, and like to watch ideas from their heads become a reality."

Painted Board Studio at 621 S. Lake St. will also do classes for six or more people and hosts art parties where people can try their hands at painting, including pizza art parties where kids paint pizza boxes and eat pie from the Miller Pizza Company across the street.

Self-taught artist and actress Jennifer Taylor, who's appeared on shows like "Chicago Fire" and "Empire," first opened the gallery in Riverside in Illinois in 1994, and moved it to Lake Street after relocating to Miller a year ago. She does custom painted furniture on commission, self-stick wall art, murals and whimsical pet portraits, such as of dogs in sea captain's hat smoking pipes. People can bring in good facial photos of a beloved dog or cat, and she will produce a portrait on paper that can be framed. 

"I always made my living as a actor," she said. "Art was a hobby that developed overtime into something I loved to do... I think every house in Riverside has a piece of my furniture in it." 

Taylor has been commissioned to do murals for several Chicago Public Schools and sells her pieces out of the studio where she works.

"I make it feel welcoming and always have a pot of coffee on for anyone who wants to come in while I'm working," she said.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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