Tofu, a soft curd made from soybeans, is usually imported to Chicago from other places.
But Phoenix Bean has produced fresh tofu in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood for more than 30 years.
Henry Harris wanted to learn more about what kinds of unique products are made here in Chicago when he asked Curious City:
What’s being manufactured locally that would surprise most Chicagoans?
Phoenix Bean is the oldest-running tofu factory in the city, and in the past, it mostly sold to Asian restaurants and grocery stores. But today — due to growing demand for plant-based protein — its tofu is sold everywhere from high school cafeterias to Whole Foods.
We visited Phoenix Bean and talked to owner Jenny Yang to learn more about how the business has grown over the years, and why she wants to stay based in the Edgewater neighborhood.
More about our questioner
Henry Harris has always been fascinated by Chicago’s manufacturing history. He became interested in present-day manufacturing when he was walking in West Town and passed by Tweeten Fibre Company, a billiards supply manufacturer.
“I saw this building with all its windows open and I heard machinery running and thought, ‘What is that?’” he says. “And it made me wonder, ‘What else is being made here now?’”
Henry says he was surprised to learn about Phoenix Bean’s factory in Edgewater.
“Something like tofu? Never in a million years would I have guessed it’s made here.”
Henry says his favorite part of visiting Phoenix Bean’s facility was seeing the coordinated hum of activity all happening in such a small space.
And, he now has a better understanding of how tofu is made.
“I think of it as less processed than I used to,” he says. “Because I could see a fairly clear path from the beans all the way to the final form they take.”
Henry works part-time in the conservation department of the Newberry Library and is about to start another part-time job doing outreach work for the 2020 census.
In his free time, he enjoys filmmaking, photography and wandering around the city — especially the lakefront.