Obama Presidental Center seeking local restaurants to run food operations


CHICAGO — If you build it, they will come. But they won’t stay unless you feed them.

With that in mind, the Obama Foundation is looking for a partner to oversee food at the future Obama Presidential Center. Josh Harris is the director of Community Affairs and Engagement.

“Everyone has a shot at this,” he said. “Local businesses have a shot at this and so we want to make sure that people, particularly on the south and west sides, those business owners know you, too, can potentially be a part of this presidential experience.”

In addition to the museum, public plaza, recreational center, and a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, the Obama Center will feature a restaurant, a grab-and-go café and food catering for events on-site.

Applicants need five years of experience and a track record of providing quick meals to large groups. The foundation hopes vendors join together to submit proposals.

Bids are due in mid-February.

“We want some local flare. Chicago has such rich culture, particularly food culture, and we want to make sure that is represented throughout this center,” Harris said.

While many are excited about the Obama Center’s estimated annual economic impact, some local residents worry about being priced out. The foundation rejected a written community benefits agreement, but Harris praises City Council’s recent passage of an ordinance guaranteeing affordable housing in Woodlawn and other areas.

“The president and Mrs. Obama made a commitment to the South Side of Chicago to give back to a city and place that has given so much to them and that’s why they chose to put the presidential center on the South Side,” he said. “We understand that this is hopefully going to be an anchor institution for other local businesses to thrive as 700,000 plus visitors come annually to visit the center.”

Harris says the Obama Foundation plans to announce the winning bid this spring. The center is still on track to open fall of 2025. 

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