Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food Izola White runs a soul food diner on Chicago's South Side that's a famous gathering spot for the city's political movers and shakers. But White and her diner have also become a stabilizing force in an otherwise rough neighborhood.
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Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

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Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

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Izola White has run a diner on Chicago's South Side for the past 52 years. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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David Gilkey/NPR

Izola White has run a diner on Chicago's South Side for the past 52 years.

David Gilkey/NPR

Outside Izola's diner, on Chicago's South Side. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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David Gilkey/NPR

Outside Izola's diner, on Chicago's South Side.

David Gilkey/NPR

Signed portraits of politicians cover the walls at Izola's Family Dining in Chicago. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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David Gilkey/NPR

Signed portraits of politicians cover the walls at Izola's Family Dining in Chicago.

David Gilkey/NPR

A waitress carries a platter of food at Izola's Family Dining in Chicago. Owner Izola White has been serving Southern-style food for more than 50 years. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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David Gilkey/NPR

A waitress carries a platter of food at Izola's Family Dining in Chicago. Owner Izola White has been serving Southern-style food for more than 50 years.

David Gilkey/NPR

Izola White runs a soul food diner on Chicago's South Side that's a famous gathering spot for the city's political movers and shakers.

But apart from the portraits of politicians that line the walls, regulars also visit for the breakfasts of liver and onions, chicken and pork chops. White herself, a slight 85-year-old woman with cropped, white hair, is also a draw.

"Izola's been here as a stabilizing force for over 50 years," says one of her customers, Sherman Nelson, a retired bank executive. "You always know Izola's is open 24 hours, six days a week."

NPR visited White's diner on a road trip called "Take Me To Your Leader." The trip is an attempt to get away from the hype surrounding the political conventions in Denver and St. Paul — and to talk to people (and leaders) from Chicago to Phoenix.

Another one of White's customers is Keith Bolt, a self-described ex-gangbanger. He credits White with changing his life, because she asked him to wash her diner's windows to get him off the street. Eventually, this helped Bolt realize that he should start his own window-washing business.

Next up is singer and songwriter Willie Clayton, who has been coming to Izola's for years. His songs are even featured in the diner's jukebox. He says White and her diner have always been a neighborhood institution.

"She always got time to talk, and keep you up on what's going on," he says.

Next up: Take Me To Your Leader heads to Indiana and Missouri. If you have a suggestion for an interesting place, or want to nominate a person you consider a leader in your community, e-mail meetyourleaders@npr.org.

Produced by Thomas Pierce

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