Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the spelling of the last name and affiliation of Ande Breunig, founder of Our Evanston magazine. The RoundTable regrets the error.
“The process is like when you lose a loved one,” said Gabi Walker-Aguilar, owner of 4Suns Fresh Juice, about the loss of her storefront in a Feb. 3 fire.
The store is currently closed due to fire, smoke and water damage. Most of the equipment has been destroyed, including a brand-new refrigerator.
Walker-Aguilar started her juice, smoothie and smoothie bowl shop at 1906 Main St. in the late fall of 2020 during the pandemic.
Santiago Callam was among her first employees and worked at 4Suns unitil the summer of 2021. “It was interesting to see it from the beginning and for people to see there was this cool juice and smoothie place in the neighborhood where that wasn’t much else like it,” he said. ”Gabi was a good boss to have for sure,” he added.
Walker-Aguilar’s business has been up and down since then. Due to her store being brand-new she was not eligible for any COVID-19-related government aid and for a period during the winter of 2021-22 she closed because business was too slow. She set up a GoFundMe page (now no longer active) and had to get a job to cover her expenses.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to reopen,” she said. ”I needed to buy myself time.” When she did reopen, on Easter Sunday in 2022, she found a supportive neighborhood clientele that was happy to see her back in operation. “People like the product,” she said.
When news of the recent fire spread, one of those loyal customers, Ande Breunig, founder of Our Evanston magazine, immediately stepped up to start a new GoFundMe page to help Walker-Aguilar with expenses and loss of income.
Customers want to make sure that her store will be able to reopen soon.
“The first 24 hours really brought me to my knees,” Walker-Aguilar said, speaking of the experience of the fire and then the overwhelming support.
After the fire, Walker-Aguilar soon realized her insurance coverage was not sufficient. She said the funds raised by the GoFundMe page are needed to fill the gap between the $25,000 in damages that her insurance will cover and the replacement cost plus lost wages she is facing.
Fortunately, her landlord has been very supportive and is trying to get his contractors lined up to help her fix up the space, she said.
Second Ward City Council member Krissie Harris said via e-mail that she is working on the case and “doing my best behind the scenes to get appropriate service to our community partner.”
Walker-Aguilar has worked in food hospitality for a long time and has held various managerial positions. Before opening 4Suns, she was the nutrition services manager at Chute Middle School. “I know this industry, and I pass every inspection because of it,” she said.
Walker-Aguilar is passionate about her mission of making healthy foods available to her customers, and said she would have preferred to have opened her store in the Fifth Ward.
“My intrinsic desire is to help Black people to live a healthier lifestyle,” she said. “I want healthy food options available in areas that are basically food deserts. I want to share the information. We [Black people] have the highest rate of various diseases.”
“My mother died of a heart attack while cooking breakfast,” she recalled, adding that she wished her mother had known about healthier food options. She also said both of her grandmothers died of colon cancer, and said things might have been different if they had had access to a different kind of diet.
“Another mission of mine is that I am able to accept Link/SNAP, or what was previously known as food stamps. Convenience stores can’t be the only option for low-income families,” she said, adding that people should not have to travel downtown in order to get quality food.
Walker-Aguilar is determined to reopen soon and hopes that she can be back in business by the spring.
Not previously aware of this business and so sorry to have learned of the fire that has caused such devastation to her and the community, so I encourage others to also make a donation to the established Go Fund me account.