Despite offering far-out flavors like Jamaican Rum Raisin and Lemon Sunbeam Supreme, Nataki Muhammad says her scoop of choice at Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream is vanilla. That’s partly because it’s the first flavor her husband Yahya Muhammad ever made when he began dabbling in homemade ice cream, a hobby that would eventually launch his and his wife’s business. And partly, it’s because the vanilla is just so dang good.
“It is absolutely exceptional,” she says. “If anyone has had homemade ice cream from a mom or grandma and they taste our vanilla, it just takes them back.”
The husband and wife are the owners of Shawn Michelle’s, which has grown into a veritable South Side institution since opening its anchor location in the historic Rosenwald building at 47th Street and Wabash Avenue in Bronzeville. The store proved its resilience — and deliciousness — to the neighborhood as customers lined up around the block even during the height of the pandemic.
Now the duo have taken their homemade ice cream even further south, opening a new location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early July in the South Suburban Olympia Fields. Muhammad described the decision to open a suburban location as an obvious one, largely driven by a devoted following the brand has developed in the area.
Black Chicagoans have especially embraced Shawn Michelle’s and the ice cream parlor has reciprocated with flavors like “Melanin Magic.” Olympia Fields provides an ideal community for expansion: Its population is nearly 80 percent Black, according to the latest Census.
“We’d have so many days where the customer would ask, ‘When are y’all coming out to the South Suburbs?’ So that customer base was always there,” Muhammad says. “There’s nothing like Shawn Michelle’s out there either so we’re filling a huge gap in Olympia Fields.”
While the location has only been open for less than two months, it’s been a hit with the community so far, and has been buoyed by a combination of delicious homemade ice cream as well as the convenient new drive-thru — a first for the business. “Customers are really, really excited,” Muhammad says. “They’ve been exceptionally supportive of the new space there.”
The support is well-earned too. Along with the Bronzeville and Olympia Fields locations, Shawn Michelle’s has also had brick-and-mortar locations pop up throughout the city in its 16 years of existence — including a stint at the Time Out Market food hall and a location as far north as East Lakeview. The first spot, originally dubbed “Jabrill’s Supreme Cream,” stood in Chatham before tragedy struck the family and Yahya’s sister Shawn was killed in a car accident in 1999.
“My sister-in-law Shawn was the one who originally told him to just go for it and open up an ice cream store,” Muhammad recalls. “She was awesome and a big reason we’re here.”
Yahya Muhammad went on to close the business temporarily before reopening with a new name to honor her memory. Today, with its new location in the South Suburbs, it’s clear that the ice cream shop has found its footing — and loyalty — on Chicago’s South Side.
“We’re just so honored,” Muhammad says of the community’s embrace of Shawn Michelle’s. “For us, we just want to provide a great product experience. That’s more important than anything because everybody should experience good homemade ice cream.”