Cool Coworking Space Spotlight

Parkway Social brings community and culture to coworking

Nestled in Chicago's historic Bronzeville neighborhood resides a new kind of coworking space—one steeped in the rich history and culture of its community. Parkway Social bronzeville, located in the historic Parkway Ballroom building, aims to provide more than just a place to work. It aspires to create a welcoming hub for connection, collaboration, and celebration of African-American culture.

Behind this visionary project is Chef Cliff Rome and his enterprise, Rome's Joy Companies. Rome, a native Southsider raised in nearby Englewood, grew up immersed in food and hospitality through cooking with his grandmother. Parkway Social bronzeville is Chef Rome's innovative way of sharing his lifelong passion. 

chef cliff romeThe coworking industry has boomed in recent years, with the number of spaces globally growing from around 14,000 in 2017 to over 25,000 in 2019 (Coworking Resources). The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this growth, as remote work became a necessity for many. 2021 saw over 1 million new people join coworking spaces, a 24% increase from the prior year (Coworking Insights).

But the rise of remote work has also led to struggles with isolation. A 2021 study found 61% of remote workers feel lonely and disconnected, leading to mental health risks (Buffer). Parkway Social bronzeville aims to alleviate this through community-building. 

"We realized a lot of people were working from home or in a hybrid environment, and really missing out on a lot of the social interaction, networking, and cultural exchange," explains Summer Powell, General Manager of Parkway Social bronzeville.

So Chef Rome and team gave the Parkway Ballroom a modern facelift, transforming event spaces into inviting areas for coworking, dining, and gathering. "We want to ensure people on the Southside have a hub where they feel welcome and included," says Powell.

To understand Chef Rome’s vision, one must first understand the history of the Parkway Ballroom itself. The venue opened in the 1940s as a cultural haven for Black Chicagoans. At the time, racist housing policies like redlining kept African Americans south of Cermak or Roosevelt Road. The Parkway Ballroom became a precious gathering place where prominent Black musicians, speakers, and thought leaders could share ideas and perform without judgment. Figures like Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Langston Hughes all graced its stage during the pre-Civil Rights era.

But the Parkway Ballroom fell into disrepair over the years. Chef Rome recognized its potential for revival. “This building was really known as a safe haven,” Powell emphasizes. “It was a precious community cultural gathering spot." 

Complementary breakfast, happy hours, networking events, and local culinary pop-ups infuse hospitality into the space. Powell aims to tend not just to basic needs, but all five senses through artwork, music, and aromas. "It shouldn’t just look good, it should feel good to use," she remarks. 

Beyond its walls, Parkway Social bronzeville also tends to the local community. Its nonprofit workforce training program, Mise en Place, helps those with little to no culinary experience gain skills and certification for jobs in culinary or hospitality. The Bronzeville area has a 21% unemployment rate, well above Chicago's 8% average (Bronzeville Community Action Council). Mise en Place works to provide educational, social, and economic opportunities for people living in underserved neighborhoods."

The roster of enterprises in Rome's Joy Companies also includes Peach's Restaurant, Peach's at University, and the Blanc Art Gallery.

Parkway Social Bronzeville opened in Phase 1 with 2,000 square feet of indoor coworking space, 2,000 square feet of outdoor social space, and a training room for conferences and work seminars. But Chef Rome and Powell have even bigger visions for Phase 2 rolling out this year. An additional 5,000 square feet will house food and beverage areas, community tables, phone booths, and a podcast studio. 

"That's just one of the things that really gets me excited: How we can activate every space to bring people together — not just for working purposes, but for socializing purposes as well," Powell shares.

Through honoring history, nourishing community, and celebrating culture, Chef Rome and Parkway Social bronzeville show that coworking can be so much more than a place to work. It can be a place that feeds the soul and inspires human connection. Powell summarizes the essence of their mission: 

"We want to ensure that people on the Southside have a gathering hub where they feel welcome and included. Where they can be productive, where they can hold meetings — a place that they feel proud to come into. And ultimately, where they don't want to leave."

Similar posts

Ready to see how it works?