CHICAGO–Inspired by the homemade ice cream he enjoyed while playing little league baseball as a child on the South Side of Chicago, Yahya Jabril Muhammad has spent decades perfecting his signature homemade vanilla ice cream and experimenting with new flavors.
“One day after practice there was an old lady with a bucket on a bench and she had cups of ice cream for one dollar. It was soft and distinctively different,” Yahya recalled with a smile. Years later, while in college working on his master’s degree, he wanted to recreate that moment from his childhood. So, he started making ice cream and sharing it with friends and family.
After roughly six years of testing, he returned to Chicago with both a master’s degree and his first signature flavor—Honey Cinnamon Graham Cracker. He consistently sold that flavor from the trunk of his car to friends and family. In 1998, with the encouragement and support of his elder sister, Shawn Michelle, he opened Jabril’s Supreme Creme, his first location on 79th and Langley Avenue in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood.
Then tragedy hit his family the following year. “My sister who inspired me, who was in the culinary arts, she made art with cake, was killed on her way to work by a drunk driver,” said Yahya.
Naturally, he and his family were devastated. Yahya shut down his business and stopped making ice cream; but after a period of mourning, he was inspired to reopen as Shawn Michelle’s to honor the memory of his sister. Today, along with his wife Nataki (his high school sweetheart) and their seven children, they have been committed to producing ice cream the “old-fashioned way”—the kind that turns with a churn.
Recently, the ice cream parlor gained praise from former First Lady Michelle Obama, the Food Network and many Chicago-based media outlets and foodies for its brand.
After testing locations in the Calumet Heights, Blue Island, and Broadway neighborhoods, they established their flagship location in Bronzeville at 46 E. 47th St., in the historic Rosenwald Building. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people lined up down the block seeking a sense of comfort and reassurance.
Along with a wide assortment of unique, hard to find anywhere else flavors, the shop, whether in a cup or cone, delivers the nostalgic element of eating ice cream as a youth. “We want to take you back down memory lane, back to grandma’s,” Yahya explained.
On 47th, a team of well-groomed and well-mannered young “crave experts” serve up signature flavors like Honey Cinnamon Graham, Banana Pudding, Melanin Magic, Pralines & Cream, Blue Moon, Strawberry Cookies & Cream, Jamaican Rum Raisin, Bourbon Butter Pecan, and Lunchroom Butter Cookie. Additionally, they have an impressive vegan menu as well.
Answering requests for a South Suburb location and celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary on July 9, Shawn Michelle’s hosted a lively grand opening and ribbon cutting for their new location at 3252 Vollmer Road in Olympia Fields. The event attracted a long line of customers, friends, family, and local dignitaries.
Shawn Michelle’s new location provides a unique opportunity to Olympia Fields because a thriving business can help stimulate economic growth by providing employment opportunities and through paying business taxes. Also, it can improve property values throughout a community.
“This all started on the campus of Western Illinois University,” said Yahya, where his first taste testers were members of his fraternity. “Working through faith and just not giving up … not quitting … keeping my aspirations high in the sky and just seeing it through is the reason we are where we are today,” he said during the grand opening.
Several hundred guests—including dozens of members of his Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and Nataki’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority—were in attendance to taste the signature flavors. New treats on display included funnel cakes and homemade soft serve. The new location also boasts a drive thru which will allow for extended evening hours for this location.
“We deserve a beautiful place. Here it is. We deserve a wonderful product. Here it is. We deserve amazing customer service. Here it is—right here in Olympia Fields,” said Nataki.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Village President Sterling Burke with a proclamation in hand designated July 9 as Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream Day in Olympia Fields. “We are really, really pleased to have (the Muhammads) here, because they are the epitome of what we believe in and that is Black entrepreneurship,” said Burke.
Additionally, Trinette Britt-Johnson and Michael Lewis, co-chairs of the village’s Economic Development Commission, presented the couple with a framed copy of their business license and a welcome gift of $250. “We are so excited for Shawn Michelle’s to be here,” commented Britt-Johnson.
Also in attendance were Village Trustees Sandra Finley and William Pennington, Economic Development Commissioner Phillip Paige, Beautification Committee Chair Arlene Burke, Village Administrator Drella Savage, Rich Township Supervisor Calvin Jordan, and Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller.