Immediately upon walking into 4 Suns Fresh Juice, patrons are enveloped by colorful murals, friendly staff, and the sweet smell of sandalwood incense. At only seven months old, the juicery is an oasis of wellness, vitality, and the creativity of Black artists.
On Dec. 4, 2020, Gabrielle J. Walker, a captivating woman with a big heart and ambitious desire to provide for her community, opened 4 Suns. Throughout her life, Ms. Walker said, she watched many of her loved ones pass away from preventable disease, leading her to become aware of the many physical benefits of a plant-based diet.
“I know that it’s very hard for many of us who are creatures of habit to totally switch how we eat for wellness, because we love good-tasting foods that may not always be healthful. But what I saw was a lack of healthful resources around and at our convenience – like you would find fast food,” said Ms. Walker. “When I did find it, it was predominantly in neighborhoods that were not predominantly Black and Brown.”
According to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 19% of Evanston residents are at risk of food insecurity, which is defined as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.” This number is high compared to the national average, which is predicted to be almost 13% throughout 2021. Further, Black and Brown people are disproportionately affected. As projected by Feeding America, 21% of Black individuals will experience food insecurity this year, compared to only 11% of white individuals. Based on a long history of systemic racism and wealth inequality, Evanston is no exception.
Located at 1906 Main St., 4 Suns is not exactly in the middle of a culinary mecca. However, the placement of the juicery was nothing short of intentional.
“As much as I know business could probably be better [in] Downtown Evanston, or in some other more urban, more populated space, I want to be accessible to my people, not necessarily who need [healthy foods] the most, but who need that access in a different way,” said Ms. Walker.
“Because I’m from Evanston, born and raised, [and] have four children, four sons to be exact, I want to be here for people who look like my aunts and uncles and grandparents, [as well as] everybody else.”
The 4 Suns menu proves that food can be both nutritious and delicious, boasting a plethora of different juices, smoothies, wellness shots and smoothie bowls. Fan favorites include Sunset, a juice and The Big ‘Lu, a smoothie. When creating the menu, Ms. Walker planned, researched, and taste tested with focus groups composed of peers, family and friends. Less methodical, though, were the names, each of which has its own story.
“1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th [juices] are all my boys. Third Sun is my 11-year-old, and he just really feels special because a lot of people order the 3rd Sun,” she said, smiling. “That’s pineapple, apple, cucumber and ginger. It’s very refreshing, very wonderful, and it’s just a hit.”
Running a successful business, however, is not always as sweet as the smoothies, especially in the wake of COVID-19. In addition to the usual hurdles of business ownership – advertising, capital, and the inevitable off-season – 4 Suns opened during a global pandemic that closed 35% of Illinois’ small businesses. In the eyes of Ms. Walker, though, when people are dying from illness, what business is more impactful than one that promotes wellness?
Even so, on the one-month anniversary of 4 Suns’ opening, Ms. Walker had tested positive for COVID-19 and the juicery shut down for three weeks.
“I was determined to get back open, and the community rallied around us, supported us,” said Ms. Walker. “We had a Gofundme just to help us stay open, and now we’re back in business. People don’t even really know [that] we closed down unless I share because it happened so early.”
Despite the setbacks, Ms. Walker plans for 4 Suns to have a bright future.
“If the property next door ever became available, I would like to make [4 Suns] more of a place where people could come, sit down with their laptops and their work, just like you do in a coffee shop,” she said. “I want to have books, a lot more books, by Black authors, and possibly in the evening have some activities, be it open mics, or conversations and meet-ups, but especially movie showings: movies that are about health and vitality, documentaries like “Forks over Knives” and “Food Matters” – things that help people continue to see the necessity around eating well.”
One corner of the shop currently acts as a storefront for Black artists who do not have a storefront of their own. Ideally, the expansion would allow this area of the juicery to grow in size.
No matter what future expansions 4 Suns takes on, Ms. Walker intends for the original storefront to stay open and continue to serve its community.
“What’s been a beautiful surprise are the people who come in and have thanked me for opening 4 Suns,’” she said. “I never thought people would come to me and say, ‘We needed this; we want this; we’re happy you’re here; thank you for being here.’ That was very stunning to me and very touching because I always thought I was just running after my dream and that I’d have to convince people to come. [But] folks are showing up like, ‘We’re so glad you did this,’ and that has been the biggest surprise and joy for me.”
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