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.
NPR logo

Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93927132/93937930" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

Diner Owner Serves Up Stability With Soul Food

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93927132/93937930" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


When Barack Obama lands in Denver, more than 15,000 journalists will be around to watch him everywhere he goes. One who will not is NPR's David Greene. During both conventions, David will be roaming the country, and joins us on the line.

David, good morning.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hard to be away from the action?

GREENE: Not really. I'm pretty happy. I think I got a good assignment here. I'm traveling from Obama's hometown of Chicago to John McCain's hometown of Phoenix and just talking to people away from all the convention excitement.

INSKEEP: Who you talking to, David?

GREENE: Almost anyone, but we're calling this series Take Me to Your Leader. And we're asking the same question to most people. And that is: in their own communities, you know, who do they look up to? Who do they consider as leaders? And we got one recommendation to make a first stop at this great soul food diner called Izola's on the South Side of Chicago.

INSKEEP: Oh, it's not just that you wanted a good lunch? This is where you find a leader?

GREENE: You know, it's always about the food. But this diner, it's also really just this famous gathering spot for political movers and shakers in Chicago. Their portraits are all over the wall. It's a neat place.

Ms. IZOLA WHITE (Owner, Izola's): Now, what does it look like that y'all would like to have for breakfast - chicken, pork chops or whatever? Live and onions?

GREENE: And that is Izola White, and she's the owner. She's 85 years old.

Ms. WHITE: I like people. If you don't like people, don't go into this type of business.

GREENE: Izola is this little woman with white hair, and she's been running this place on the South Side alone for 52 years in a pretty rough neighborhood. I asked her who makes a difference in her life.

Ms. WHITE: I have one over there right now who just walked in the door. You want me to get him? You want to meet him?

GREENE: That'd be great.


GREENE: And so Izola pops up and she heads over to a guy sitting right near the kitchen.

Ms. WHITE: Come on.

Mr. SHERMAN NELSON: Where I got to go, baby?

Ms. WHITE: Follow me.

Mr. NELSON: Follow you?

GREENE: Izola introduces me to Sherman Nelson.

Mr. NELSON: Izola, did these people show you identification? You know, you're a senior.

Ms. WHITE: They now everything about me right now.

Mr. NELSON: They know everything?

Ms. WHITE: I got you over here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NELSON: Okay.

GREENE: So tell me, why'd you bring this guy over here?

Ms. WHITE: Sherman is the most important person in my life.

GREENE: Sherman Nelson was a bank executive, and he is retired now. But he's always helped Izola print her menus and her business cards.

Ms. WHITE: I depend on him for everything.

GREENE: But then Sherman turns the focus to Izola and how this neighborhood in Chicago really depends on her.

Mr. NELSON: Because Izola's been here as a stabilizing force for over 50 years. You always know that Izola's is open 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Mr. KEITH BOLT (Window Washer): Izola's my leader.

GREENE: That's Keith Bolt. He's taking a break from washing the windows.

Mr. BOLT: I used to be a gang banger, but every time she saw me on the streets she always tell me to come here. You need to stay out of trouble.

GREENE: Izola would tell Keith to wash her windows, and soon that became his own business.

Mr. BOLT: I thank God for her, because she has really, like, changed my life.

GREENE: Izola is now searching for more people for me to talk to.

Ms. WHITE: Give him your name.

Mr. WILLIE CLAYTON (Singer, Songwriter): Willie Clayton.

GREENE: Willie was wearing a Willie Clayton baseball cap, and that didn't meet Izola's dress code.

Ms. WHITE: Take your cap off.

GREENE: Willie's been coming to Izola's for years.

Mr. CLAYTON: You know, she's always got time to talk, you know, and keep you up on what's going on.

GREENE: Willie is a songwriter and a singer, and he's been working on a new album. And he says he likes lyrics that are full of passion.

Mr. CLAYTON: Mine be more about love, romance, you know, a little sex, you know. But she keeps my music on her box.

GREENE: And Willie walks over to Izola's jukebox and suggests one of his songs on it, "Tell Me."

Mr. CLAYTON: It's number 15.

GREENE: So I hit 5-5-1-5. Could you give us like a little preview of what it's going to sound like?

Mr. CLAYTON: Well, tell me what…

GREENE: Sing us like a bar or two.

Mr. CLAYTON: (Singing) Said I wouldn't tell nobody, but try and keep it all to myself. Tell me what you're going to do baby when you want to be loved.

INSKEEP: You can hear the music and the food being chewed in the reporting of NPR's David Greene, who is searching for leaders miles away from any party convention.

David, where you going next?

GREENE: Well, Steve, it's Indiana, and then we head to Missouri. But, you know, we're staying pretty loose with our itinerary. And we're also taking suggestions and we're telling our listeners that they can nominate people. They can tell me where to go. Just go to our election blog on our Web site npr.org, or you can shoot me an email at meetyourleaders@npr.org. So there you go.

INSKEEP: I'll send you some suggestions about Indiana, David.

GREENE: Sounds great. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Greene. You can follow David and the NPR team as they travel across America at npr.org.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.