Walking into Nini’s Deli is one of the warmest and most welcoming feelings to experience on a cold December day in Chicago. As soon as I walked in I was greeted with a smile by Juan, whose parents opened the family business, Nini’s Deli in 2011. I came to meet wth Emma McKee, an immensely talented cross stitch artist who also known as the “Stitch Gawd”. McKee creates custom embroidered pieces for Chicago’s well-known artists and her friends.
Three years ago, cross stitching became something that Mckee want to take seriously. Her mother who is British mother always wanted her to learn this skill as a child but she admitted to having no patience for it. “I feel like all British women are really into cross stitching, like a prerequisite, my mom, my grandmother and my aunts all did it” McKee jokes. It was until her later 20’s that a hobby she used to relax became something that turned into an exclusive club in Chicago. Opera was also another talent she inherited from her mother but she later came to realize that she didn’t want to go to school for singing. McKee also attended college in Canada to get a degree in arts. She wanted to stay in Canada after graduating in 2009 and she did for a few years but her visa was no longer being sponsored.
The next step for McKee was Chicago and she chose it because it was her favorite vacation city with her father. She was writing for a blog in Toronto and got a few gigs covering RedBull DJ events in the city. McKee also attributes some of her success and following to social media “If I didn’t do things like random tweet Chance the Rapper a piece I made inspired by him in June of this year, he probably wouldn’t be wearing my custom pieces on his last tour”
“Now I also don’t want to make it seem like I’m doing my art just so everyone can see who I’m doing it for because I’ve done pieces for people like Saba and I never saw a picture of him in it, I do it for the genuine love of making things that people really like not anything else.” adds McKee. She has been making pieces for major people in Chicago like Hebru Brantley, Andrew Barber, and Noname for the past three years.
Creating one-of-a-kind cross stitch pieces is not the only thing that is unique about what McKee does. She also does not charge anyone for her art she simply works with the barter system. “To be totally honest, when I started creating things three years ago, I didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t really tell anyone because I assumed they would think I was weird,” admits McKee. It wasn’t until her friends started to take notice of how skilled she was when she decided to start making things for trade.
This system of no cash exchange gives Mckee the freedom to create when she wants and what she wants. McKee feels that if the money came into the equation she would not love and feel as passionate about her art. Mckee also had no clue what or how to charge because some items take up to 100 hours. “Time is worth more than money to me” explains McKee. She also works a day job at one of Chicago most successful tech startups.
Nini’s Deli was the number pick on Mckee’s list for Chicago food. Although she just moved here in 2012, Nini’s, is hands down the only place Mckee admits to being in love with. The welcoming environment and welcoming vibes you get from the owners will make you feel like you’re visiting your family member’s house so the love is quite mutual. After the meal was done, Juan brought out the freshest churros with a side of guava jelly. The jelly was a great pairing because it wasn’t overbearingly sweet the perfect amount of tart to go with the churros.
This place offers some of the best Cuban style food I’ve had in a long time. “My favorite thing about Nini’s is that they drop sandwiches and special items like streetwear, it’s good and exclusive so you have to get it before it’s gone,” says Mckee. This exclusive item style is definitely a reason to come back for more because you’re always trying something new and FOMO is a big deal at Nini’s. The steak breakfast sandwich is a popular weekly item but if you follow Nini’s on social media you can surely catch items while they pop up. We came on Saturday so we got shredded beef with cheese empanada special. There was so much flavor in each freshly handmade fried bite, I needed to order one more.
Stop by Nini’s Deli on 543 N. Noble and be sure to check out more of Emma Mckee’s art at somedopeness.com